Graeme Macrae Burnet loves meta textual games. In particular, creating texts within texts about seemingly real (but actually fictional characters). Both The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau and The Accident on the A35 were written by an invented French crime novelist called Brunet, whose manuscripts Burnet had “come across”. Similarly, Burnet’s Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project was also based on a range of ‘found documents’. So it is no surprise that Case Study once again opens with an offer to Burnet of a series of notebooks related to a disgraced 1960s psychotherapist named Collins Braithwaite and later has extracts both from one of Braithwaite’s books and from Burnet’s own ‘biography’ of Braithwaite.
Case Study revolves around the five notebooks of an unnamed narrator. The narrator believes that her older sister Veronica killed herself after attending psychotherapy sessions with Collins Braithwaite. Braithwaite had become famous for a book entitled Kill Your Self and later with a series of studies of his patients (one of whom was Veronica) called Untherapy. Braithwaite’s first book was based on a belief that people had different “selves” and that they needed to embrace the uncertainty of this existence. As the story of Braithwaite’s life and theories is told in parallel, it turns out that he is a charismatic, narcissistic and dangerous charlatan. The interlaced chapters tell the whole story of Braithwaite’s life of which the time covered by the notebooks is only a small part.
In order to investigate her sister’s death, the narrator takes on a very different, alternative personality who she calls Rebecca Smyth, As she says early on:
Rebecca, I had decided, would be the sort of person who said what was on her mind. In this way she was my opposite. If I have something on my mind, I keep it to myself.
Over her visits the narrator finds herself being Rebecca in more and more situations and often that she prefers to live as Rebecca than as herself. Slowly, the notebooks reveal the narrator potentially having her own psychological break and a confrontation with her “other self”. As it is from her perspective, it is unclear how much Braithwaite suspects that the narrator is putting on an act and how much his techniques contribute to her identity crisis.
Case Study is a story of a strange relationship between a woman who has invented a fake personal that starts to become real and a man who has essentially adopted a persona as a therapist. It is rich with issues of identity and self-deception. It also delivers a great sense of 1960s London. As with other Burnet books, Case Study is written in a variety of very distinct styles and bookended to give it a feel of veracity. But this is actually a cunningly constructed, intriguing and disturbing tale full of misdirection and resonance.