Home Bookend - Where reading meets review Case Study – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Case Study – Graeme Macrae Burnet

by Venky

(Image Credit: http://www.goodreads.com)

I invoked the universally acclaimed search capabilities of Google multiple times to reassure my confounded self that the primary character in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s gripping and taut psychological thriller Case Study, was indeed a figment of the author’s roving imagination. Dr. Collins Braithwaite the “enfant terrible” of the supposed ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement of the 1960s is so damned close to being a real persona that the reader is left wondering whether she has been redeemed or left despondent by the fictional nature of the book’s protagonist, nay, remorseless antagonist.

Graeme Macrae Burnet not only succeeds spectacularly in juxtaposing fact with fiction, but he also lends an incredible degree of inventive credibility to the incredulous. Case Study is an exquisitely crafted biographical sketch of the eccentric, voluble and vitriolic Braithwaite. A contemporary of the psychiatrist RD Laing, Braithwaite considers himself to be a tortured and flawless genius whereas the world around him derides him as a dangerous, delusional and demented practioner with unscrupulous principles.

Manifesting as the writings of one “GMB”, the novel derives its themes from six explosive notebooks handed over to GMB by mail by one mysterious Mr. Martin Grey. Grey also helpfully informs GMB that his cousin was a former patient of Braithwaite and was in the know of certain grave allegations that tarnished Braithwaite’s practice thereby irreparably denting his image.

The author of these notebooks is an unnamed woman whose elder sister, Veronica, leaps off a bridge, taking her own life in an untimely and inexplicably mysterious manner. When Braithwaite’s novel ‘Untherapy’ (an unabashed and even salacious collection of Braithwaite’s experiences and experiments with his patients) is published, there are unmistakable references to Veronica. A follow up book ‘Kill Your Self’, more or less convinces the author of the notebooks that Dr. Braithwaite is indeed the primary or even the singular reason behind Veronica’s death.

To get to the bottom of the barrel, the young woman decides to present herself at Dr. Braithwaite’s doorstep as a patient requiring psychiatric assistance. Assuming the name of Rebecca Smyth (Smyth with a “y”), the intrepid and intrigued ‘investigator’ makes an appointment with Dr. Braithwaite.

 Little does Rebecca realise what she is getting herself into. Plunging headlong into this reckless mission upends the life of the young woman. The Rebecca within emerges without as a headstrong, harrumphing and hifalutin character who completely holds the masquerading patient in dominating thrall. Macrae while accomplishing this feat seals his position as an undisputed master of the muddle. The past coalesces into the present before amalgamating into the future. The boundaries between fact and fiction are mere euphemisms for a dalliance with fate.

Blending acerbic wit with undisguised vitriol, Rebecca stands toe to toe with Dr. Braithwaite who threatens to see through her scheme. When the supposedly impenetrable veil of secrecy is at a risk of being lifted, Rebecca decides to become even more ambitious, and unbeknownst to herself, dangerous. Even when getting dragged into a quagmire of lies, concocted fables and fantastical flights of fancy, Rebecca carries on undaunted and unrelentless. But most disturbingly, she seems to revel in such an unabashed journey of self-destruction.

Graeme Macrae Burnet grabs his reader by the scruff of her neck and gives her a capital shake as he mesmerizes, bewilders and reassures with every rousing page and riveting passage. The falsity of the narrative surrounding the shenanigans of the charlatan Braithwaite is so authentic, that the untrue smothers the truth. While the reader feels like hurling the choicest of expletives (in addition to whichever physical object that is most easily accessible and preferably with the sharpest edge), at the temerity and brazenness of Braithwaite, she is also forced to acknowledge that the seemingly unconventional methods of treating his patients may in fact, be the most conventional.

Holding forth on  Kierkegaard’s theories on the self, Braithwaite explores the intersectionality of metal health, conspicuous consumption and peer pressure. In this aspect, Case Study presents itself as a brave and noble attempt to reconcile the conflicting gap between self-assurance and societal expectations.

Just as I was about to complete this review, I once again dutifully ‘fact checked’ the existence of a Collins Braithwaite. This time I decided to explore Macrae’s webpage itself. I learned that “Braithwaite was born in Darlington in 1925 and, from the scant information available, appears to have had a brief period of celebrity in the mid-1960s. This was a moment when many of the certainties of psychiatry were being challenged by the likes of RD Laing, Erving Goffman and Thomas Szasz…...”

At the brink of tearing away my hair I took recourse to the company incorporated by the remorseless father of capitalism, Jeff Bezos, to put to bed all my doubts, once and for all. Under the Books section, I keyed in Untherapy and Kill Your Self alternatively. The search returned no author going by the name of Collins Braithwaite.

Damn You, Graeme Macrae Burnet!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: