Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

There is no reason to believe that the therapist is saner than the patient.


In a nutshell, this quote sums up the book I think. If you like unreliable narrators then you will love this book.

GMB (fictional, not necessarily the author) was sent six notebooks from someone, Rebecca Smyth was one of her names, whose sister had been a patient of Colin Braithwaite and who had committed suicide. The notebooks were written as an attempt to sort out whether her sister had been driven to suicide by the untrained psychiatrist in the 1960s which I think means that really this book is about psychiatry and whether psychiatrists are the best people to make a judgement about sanity. I don’t really know enough about psychiatry to be drawn in by the anti-psychiatry movement at that time but this aside, the story is compelling and told through a range of texts.

Interspersed in the notebooks are pages ripped out of a published book of case studies that Smyth believes are her sister’s notes renamed to maintain annonymity. And then, between the notebooks is a biography of Colin Braithwaite. The effect of all of these different text types is that the characters are revealed slowly in different ways and their saneness/insanity is brought out into the light. These texts also have the effect of blurring the boundaries between reality and thought where it is not entirely clear whose story we should be following.

There are also real characters in the book: R.D. Laing and Dirk Bogarde, again with the effect of blurring boundaries because I really wanted to google Braithwaite and find out more about him.

Whether it was his talent for self-mythologising or a genuine misrememberingis impossible to say, but, certainly, he had a flexible relationship with the truth.


The postscript turns everything on its head and we are left wondering whether any of it is true or not – the slow breakdown of Rebecca or the manipulative character of Braithwaite. It is probably one of the best postscripts I have read in a long time.

This book is like Briathwaite, having a flexible relationship with the truth.

If you enjoyed this book, you might like Trust by Hernan Diaz

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