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Case Study is the fourth novel by best-selling award-winning Scottish author, Graeme Macrae Burnet. Two years after her older sister suicides by throwing herself off a railway overpass in Camden, a young woman becomes convinced that notorious psychotherapist A. Collins Braithwaite is responsible for her death. Determined to prove his guilt, she poses as a patient, writing detailed notes of her sessions with him.
Over fifty years later, her cousin Martin “Grey” discovers the five notebooks and offers them to the author, who happens to be researching the psychotherapist with a view to writing a biography of this now-forgotten, disgraced character. At first sceptical, the author eventually decides to supplement his own material with the notebooks because, if nothing else, they tell an interesting story.
The young woman does not reveal her identity in her notebooks. For the purpose of her visits to Braithwaite, she adopts a persona she names Rebecca Smyth, creating for Rebecca an alternate life quite different from her own strictly controlled existence. Rebecca’s life is so attractive, she begins to inhabit it, rather losing sight of her initial objective as she is swept up in Braithwaite’s “therapy”.
This unnamed protagonist is clearly unworldly, her scheme evidence of a na´ve arrogance. She is immature with a childlike self-absorption, admitting about herself: “I have understood from an early age that I am an unpleasant and spiteful person. I am unable to see events in any terms other than their benefit or injuriousness to myself.” Her thought processes often prove darkly funny.
With later visits, it’s clear she is losing touch with reality, having conversations and arguments with Rebecca; at one stage she records an exchange with Braithwaite thus:
“’I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered anyone quite as hollow as you. I’m beginning to wonder if you really are who you say you are.’
‘I often wonder the same thing,’ Rebecca responded, rather deftly, I thought. (She is so much brighter than me; I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t let her take over completely)”
The last notebook offers no clue as to the young woman’s ultimate fate, but her “progress” during the first four sessions with this unconventional man don’t suggest a promising future. Braithwaite, from the author’s research, is variously described as a “cheerleader for suicide” (having written a book titled Kill Your Self) and a “dangerous charlatan” who, throughout his life, never faltered in his conviction of his own genius.
While readers generally don’t skip over the prologue, many are tempted to ignore any post-script, but, as with previous Macrae Burnet novels, this is unwise as the Post Script forms an integral part of the whole. Once again, very cleverly written, Macrae Burnet’s latest work is thought-provoking, funny and utterly brilliant.
This unbiased review is from a copy provided by NetGalley and Text Publishing.

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