For Bury (2001:264), ‘universal, cultural and individual levels of human existence are tied together with narrative threads’. Consumer researchers have long acknowledged this, drawing consumption stories from interviews, comics and novels, and personal introspection (Belk 1987; Brown 1995; Gould 1991). For all their salience in everyday life, stories acquire particular urgency in extremis. Serious illness and impending death are common yet extraordinary circumstances that cause physical and emotional havoc, trailing ‘narrative wreckage’ (Frank 1995) in their wake. Individuals experiencing such adversity ‘often feel a pressing need to re-examine and re-fashion their personal narratives’ (Bury 2001: 264). Telling stories of illness and loss, Frank suggests, is a way of reclaiming agency, transforming fate into experience, and crystallising or rebuilding disrupted identity projects. Many such stories are crafted in conversation, and the consumer research literature has been enriched by studies drawing on interview accounts with people facing serious, life-limiting or life-threatening illness (Kates 2001; Pavia and Mason 2005; Botti et al. 2009; Dunnett et al. 2011; Tian et al. 2014). Prior to undertaking interviews with women about breast cancer, Pavia and Mason (2004) read published memoirs as they sought to orient themselves to this sensitive topic. In this chapter, memoirs of illness and dying move from this supportive, orienting, role to centre stage, just as they appear to have done in the publishing industry. Pathographies are a form of popular culture, a genre of autobiographical literature describing an author’s experiences in facing or witnessing serious or terminal illness, or grieving for the loss of a loved one (Hawkins 1999). For all the debate about the extent to which modern society is death-denying (Aries 1981; Walter 1991), there appears to be considerable consumer demand for musings on mortality; Lane (2000) notes that ‘[t]he death memoir was the cultural and publishing sensation of the past decade’. Challenging views of death as taboo in Western culture, O’Neill (2012) asks ‘. . . how many times does a taboo have to be broken before we stop calling it a taboo?

Because writing about one’s own malady, especially if it’s cancer, is actually pretty commonplace these days’. O’Neill (2012) attributes the contemporary popularity of pathographies to a morbid, disease-obsessed and titillationseeking culture; others attribute it to more profound reader concerns and point to hundreds of letters thanking authors for the consolation or inspiration of their words and for sharing their own stories of illness, dying and loss (Small 1998; Armstrong-Coster 2012; Berman 2012). Illness narratives not only offer accounts of how disease affects individual lives; they may also offer important insights into ‘the links between identity, experience and “late modern” cultures’ (Bury 2001). Such links are central to the consumer culture theory agenda (Arnould and Thompson 2005). Clearly, the authors of pathographies do not set out to foreground consumption issues. Nonetheless, we suggest that deep and detailed accounts of serious or terminal illness, particularly when furnished by accomplished writers, offer a powerful lens for examining the role of consumption and consumer culture in extremis – how consumers in distressing circumstances use an array of goods and services in their struggle to make sense of illness and loss. As extended, uninterrupted, narratives of illness trajectories, these accounts also minimise the risk of researcher-led fragmentation (Gilbert 2002). In this chapter, we highlight the contribution of pathographies to understandings of consumption in extremis, using as exemplars two influential cancer memoirs written by British journalists. We suggest that these authors’ journalistic training, coupled with the heightened sensitivity bestowed on them by illness and decline, suffuse their memoirs with deep insights into the interplay between markets and mortality.