Case Study

By Graeme Macrae Burnet

Case Study
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Shortlisted for the 2022 Gordon Burn Prize • Shortlisted for the 2022 Ned Kelly Awards • Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize • Longlisted for the 2022 HWA Gold Crown Award

The Booker-shortlisted author of His Bloody Project blurs the lines between patient and therapist, ... Read more


Shortlisted for the 2022 Gordon Burn Prize • Shortlisted for the 2022 Ned Kelly Awards • Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize • Longlisted for the 2022 HWA Gold Crown Award

The Booker-shortlisted author of His Bloody Project blurs the lines between patient and therapist, fiction and documentation, and reality and dark imagination.

London, 1965. 'I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger,' writes an anonymous patient, a young woman investigating her sister's suicide. In the guise of a dynamic and troubled alter-ego named Rebecca Smyth, she makes an appointment with the notorious and roughly charismatic psychotherapist Collins Braithwaite, whom she believes is responsible for her sister's death. But in this world of beguilement and bamboozlement, neither she nor we can be certain of anything.

Case Study is a novel as slippery as it is riveting, as playful as it is sinister, a meditation on truth, sanity, and the instability of identity by one of the most inventive novelists of our time.

Graeme Macrae Burnet

Graeme Macrae Burnet is among Scotland's leading contemporary novelists. Best known for his dazzling Booker-shortlisted second novel, His Bloody Project (2015), he is also the author of two Simenon-influenced novels: The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau (2014) and The Accident on the A35 (2017). Burnet has appeared at literary festivals in Australia, the USA, Germany, India, Russia, Spain, France, Korea, Denmark and Estonia. His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages and achieved bestseller status in several countries. He lives and works in Glasgow.


The First Notebook

I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger, and if proved to be right (a rare occurrence admittedly), this notebook might serve as some kind of evidence.

Regrettably, as will become clear, I have little talent for com­position. As I read over my previous sentence I do rather cringe, but if I dilly-dally over style I fear I will never get anywhere. Miss Lyle, my English mistress, used to chide me for trying to cram too many thoughts into a single sentence. This, she said, was a sign of a disorderly mind. ‘You must first decide what it is you wish to say, then express it in the plainest terms. ’ That was her mantra, and though it is doubtless a good one, I can see that I have already failed. I have said that I may be putting myself in danger, but there I go, off on an irrelevant digression. Rather than beginning again, however, I shall press on. What matters here is substance rather than style; that these pages constitute a record of what is to occur. It may be that were my narrative too polished, it might lack credibility; that somehow the ring of truth lies in infelicity. In any case, I cannot follow Miss Lyle’s advice, as I do not yet know what it is I wish to say. However, for the sake of anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves reading this, I will endeavour to be clear: to express myself in the plainest terms.

In this spirit, I shall begin by stating the facts. The danger to which I have alluded comes in the person of Collins Braithwaite. You will have heard him described in the press as ‘Britain’s most dangerous man’, this on account of his ideas about psychiatry. It is my belief, however, that it is not merely his ideas that are dangerous. I am convinced, you see, that Dr Braithwaite killed my sister, Veronica. I do not mean that he murdered her in the normal sense of the word, but that he is, nonetheless, as respon­sible for her death as if he had strangled her with his bare hands. Two years ago, Veronica threw herself from the overpass at Bridge Approach in Camden and was killed by the 4. 45 to High Barnet. You could hardly imagine a person less likely to commit such an act. She was twenty-six years old, intelligent, successful and passably attractive. Regardless of this, she had, unbeknown to my father and me, been consulting Dr Braithwaite for some weeks. This I know from his own account.

Like most people in England I was familiar with Dr Braithwaite’s uncouth Northern drawl long before I encountered him in person. I had heard him speaking on the wireless, and had even once seen him on television. The programme was a discussion of psychiatry hosted by Joan Bakewell. * Braithwaite’s appearance was no more attractive than his voice. He wore an open-necked shirt and no jacket. His hair, which reached to his collar, was dishevelled, and he smoked constantly. His features were large, as if they had been exaggerated by a caricaturist, but there was something, even on television, that drew one’s eyes to him. I was only vaguely aware of the other guests in the studio. I remember less of what he actually said than his manner of delivering it. He had the air of a man to whom it would be futile to offer resistance. He spoke with a weary authority, as if tired of explaining himself to his inferiors. The participants were seated in a semi-circle with Miss Bakewell in the centre. While the others sat up straight, as if attending church, Dr Braithwaite slouched in his seat like a bored schoolboy, his chin slumped on the palm of his hand. He appeared to regard the other contribu­tors with a mixture of contempt and boredom. Towards the end of the programme, he gathered up his smoking materials and walked off the set, muttering an expletive that there is no need to repeat here. Miss Bakewell was taken aback, but quickly recov­ered her composure and remarked that it was an admission of the poverty of her guest’s ideas that he was unwilling to engage in debate with his peers.

The following day’s newspapers were filled with condemna­tion of Dr Braithwaite’s behaviour: he was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with modern Britain; his books were filled with the most obscene ideas and displayed the basest view of human nature. Naturally, the following day I visited Foyle’s during my lunch hour and asked for a copy of his most recent book, which laboured under the unappealing title of Untherapy. The cashier handled the volume as though it carried the danger of infection, and gave me a disapproving look I had not expe­rienced since I acquired a copy of Mr Lawrence’s disreputable novel. My purchase remained under wraps until I was safely ensconced in my room after supper that night.

I should say that, prior to this, my knowledge of psychiatry was exclusively derived from those scenes in films in which a patient reclines on a settee and recounts her dreams to a bearded physician with a Germanic accent. Perhaps for this reason, I found the opening part of Untherapy difficult to follow. It was full of unfamiliar words, and the sentences were so long and convoluted that the author would have benefited from follow­ing Miss Lyle’s advice. The only thing I gleaned from the intro­duction was that Braithwaite had not even wanted to write this book in the first place. His ‘visitors’, as he called them, were individuals, not ‘case studies’ to be paraded like sideshow freaks. If he now set out these stories, it was for the sole purpose of defending his ideas against the scorn poured on them by the Establishment (a word he used a great deal). He declared him­self to be ‘an untherapist’: his task was to convince people that they did not need therapy; his mission was to bring down the ‘jerry-built edifice’ of psychiatry. This struck me as a most pecu­liar position to adopt, but, as I have said, I am not well versed in the topic. The book, he wrote, could be seen as a companion to his previous work, and consisted of a series of narratives based on relationships he had entered into with troubled individuals. Naturally, the names and certain identifying details had been changed, but the fundamentals of each story were, he insisted, true.

Having got past the baffling opening section, I found these stories frightfully compelling. I suppose there is something reassuring about reading about those duds who make one’s own eccentricities pale by comparison. By the time I was half­way through I felt positively normal. It was only when I came to the penultimate chapter that I found myself reading about Veronica. The most sensible thing, I think, is simply to insert these pages here:


  • Booker Prize 2022, Long-listed


Praise for Case Study

"A mystery story—or is it?—that takes us into the heart of the psychoanalytical consulting room. Or does it? Interleaving a biography of radical '60s 'untherapist' Collins Braithwaite with the notebooks of his patient 'Rebecca', a young woman seeking answers about the death of her sister, 'GMB' presents a forensic, elusive and mordantly funny text(s) layered with questions about authenticity and the self. "
—2022 Booker Prize Jury Statement

"A twisting and often wickedly humorous work of crime fiction that meditates on the nature of sanity, identity and truth itself. "
—Gordon Burn Prize Jury Citation

"It is a truly riveting novel, entertaining as it makes you question everything about it, and beautifully written. There are no wasted words in this book. "
—Miramichi Reader

"The fictional author and Burnet share the same initials, which should be a clue as to how close the book will come to breaking the fourth wall . .. The matryoshka-style layering of narratives, each dependent on the other, is engaging and disorienting. Case Study is an immersive novel that stretches its fiction to fact-like proportions. "
—Foreword Reviews (starred review)

"Case Study reflects on relationships of power: the physical power of abusive men over women, the lingering power of memory over oneself. "
—The Michigan Daily

"A provocative send-up of midcentury British mores and the roots of modern psychotherapy … brisk and engaging. "

“Encourages us to look more closely at the inherent instability of fiction itself … genuinely affecting … a very funny book. ”
—Nina Allan, The Guardian

“Brilliant, bamboozling … Burnet captures his characters’ voices so brilliantly that what might have been just an intellectual game feels burstingly alive and engaging. ”

“A riveting psychological plot . .. tortuous, cunning . .. clever. ”
—Times Literary Supplement

“Burnet’s triumph is that it’s a page-turning blast, funny, sinister and perfectly plotted so as to reveal—or withhold—its secrets in a consistently satisfying way … Rarely has being constantly wrong-footed been so much fun. ”
—The Times

“Such is Burnet’s skill that he immediately convinces the reader that everything he is about to say is based on historical fact … brilliantly depicted … intriguing … compulsive reading. ”
—Irish Times

“You’ll be completely beguiled by this sly, darkly comic offering, with its unreliable narrator and its equally unreliable author. ”
—Mail on Sunday

“What’s real and what’s not is beside the point in this skillful portrait of a disturbed woman and her encounters with an experimental 1960s psychotherapist … Both strands quickly become compelling … I was hooked like a fish. ”

Praise for Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project

"It’s only a story—or is it? Graeme Macrae Burnet makes such masterly use of the narrative form that the horrifying tale he tells in His Bloody Project . .. seems plucked straight out of Scotland’s sanguinary historical archives. ”
—New York Times Book Review

“Both a horrific tale of violence and a rumination on the societal problems for poor sharecroppers of the era. ”

“[A] powerful, absorbing novel … Authors from Henry James to Vladimir Nabokov to Gillian Flynn have used [an unreliable narrator] to induce ambiguity, heighten suspense and fold an alternative story between the lines of a printed text. Mr. Burnet, a Glasgow author, does all of that and more in this page-turning period account of pathos and violence in 19th-century Scotland … [A] cleverly constructed tale … Has the lineaments of the crime thriller but some of the sociology of a Thomas Hardy novel. ”
—Wall Street Journal

“Recalls William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner in the way it portrays an abused people and makes the ensuing violence understandable … His Bloody Project shows that the power held by landowners and overseers allowed cruelties just like those suffered by the Virginia slaves in Confessions. Halfway between a thriller and a sociological study of an exploitive economic system with eerie echoes to our own time, His Bloody Project is a gripping and relevant read. ”

“A thriller with a fine literary pedigree . .. His Bloody Project offers an intricate, interactive puzzle, a crime novel written, excuse my British, bloody well. ”
—Los Angeles Times




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