Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Publication Date: 19/10/2021

‘Towards the end of 2019 I received an email from a Martin Grey of Clacton-on-Sea.’

After writing a blog post about the now forgotten and disgraced 1960s psychotherapist, Collins Braithwaite, the author receives an email from Martin Grey. Mr Grey has a series of notebooks written by his cousin which he considers might form the basis of an interesting book. While the author’s initial response is to decline, Mr Grey believes that there are certain allegations in the notebook which might interest him. The author had been contemplating a biography of Braithwaite but had received little enthusiasm thus far. The author receives five notebooks which he read in a day. The notebooks, written in 1965, allege criminal malpractice by Braithwaite.

And so, the story begins.

The diarist, a young woman, is convinced that Dr Braithwaite killed her sister Veronica two years earlier. Veronica had been consulting Dr Braithwaite and the diarist believes he is responsible for Veronica taking her own life. The diarist has read a case study in Braithwaite’s book ‘Untherapy’, ad is convinced the patient described is her sister Veronica. She assumes an alter ego, Rebecca Smyth, and presents as a client in Dr Braithwaite’s rooms.

Macrae Burnet takes us on an interesting journey through a maze of delusions, secrets, and questions about identity. Braithwaite is egotistical and unlikeable while the diarist starts to assume (for real) the deeply troubled Rebecca she has chosen to present to Braithwaite.

‘She sometimes seemed to forget that without me she would not even exist, but (for once) we were getting on, it did not seem wise to remind her of this.’

References to the psychiatry practiced by R.D. Laing help ground this novel in the 1960s. The (is he fictional, or simply representative?) Braithwaite is jealous of Laing and Laing is contemptuous of him.

The novel shifts between biographical details of Braithwaite and the five notebooks. What is real? What happens to the diarist? Braithwaite is a dangerous charlatan, and his end should come as no surprise — fiction can be wonderful sometimes.

Once again, Macrae Burnett creates a story that feels so real that I want more information about Braithwaite. But I also want to know what happened to the diarist. I was intrigued by the story, fascinated by the characters, and finished the novel wanting (but not needing) more.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith