Wednesday 17 May 2017

I'll Eat When I'm Dead by Barbara Bourland

Published by Riverrun on May 18, 2017

I’ll Eat When I’m Dead has a killer title, blurb and prologue and after reading them, I was dying to get stuck in to the rest of the book.

When RAGE Fashion Book’s top editor Hillary is found dead in the office, to outsiders the cause of her death seemed straight forward enough – she starved to death. There’s talk of an eating disorder, even though several employees in fashion seem to share Hilary’s thin figure, and even though Hillary never really seemed too concerned about losing weight. But the investigation went no further. That is, until something leads detective Mark Hutton to look further into the case, and he, alongside Hillary’s long-time friend Cat, look to see what really lead Hillary to her death that day.

Somewhat surprisingly given the fashion industry setting, the author gives her book a real feminist edge which I enjoyed, as it made the characters, in particular Cat, come across as fiercer, stronger and much more like a character I’d want to root for. There is a quote mentioned very early on in the book that says “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”. I found this quote to be fascinating and thought-provoking, and fitting for the industry Cat is working in. But her attitude to her work is different to the outsider’s view of her work. Cat is always keen to remind the reader of the importance of fashion in society, why it’s not frivolous or meaningless or a device used by women only to make themselves more attractive to men. When someone is as passionate about what they do as Cat is, it’s hard to disagree! I loved her strong attitude and how she could stand up for herself and for her job. Cat was definitely my favourite character in the book.

The exploration into RAGE Fashion Book was also incredibly absorbing. One thing which is brought to the reader’s attention early on is that they are struggling to keep up the sales and subscriptions that they used to have. This felt timely and relevant as sales of print media have been declining steadily with the rise of digital media. As this is something I’ve studied quite a bit through my journalism degree, I found it interesting reading the methods RAGE would need to go to to keep up their readership and sales, whether that had to be through a different platform or otherwise.

Another more central theme of this book, which ties in with the death of Hillary, is the culture of working in fashion. Firstly there are appearances, where being unhealthily thin isn’t picked up on as that is just how people look. Then there is how parties and drugs and starving yourself is the norm. Though all these aspects are touched upon throughout the book, I would have loved to see them delved into more. I did like the light-heartedness about this book, but I felt like it could have been grittier and more hard-hitting than it actually was. The chaos that ensued as Cat and Bess took over was definitely entertaining to read, but I would have liked more from the investigation of Hillary’s death.

Whilst I did find this book to be compelling for the most part, there were a few times when my focus drifted away. I don’t share the interest in fashion that the characters in this book have, so whilst I found the premise to this book to be really interesting, there were only so many fashion name-drops I could read before I drifted away. I get that maybe this book is probably meant to appeal to the more “stylish” reader, but I do love a good mystery so I couldn’t turn this book away purely because I don’t really pay much attention to what people are wearing…

Despite that, and despite not having as much interest in the glamour of fashion as I should do, I found I’ll Eat When I’m Dead to be part funny and frenetic, part sharp and satirical. It’s one of those books that you can’t read slowly as so much is going on and you just need to know what will happen next. Some characters and events in this book will be very difficult to forget, and this is a book that is so thought-provoking I could talk about it for days!

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