Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas is the author's debut novel. I grabbed it because the blurb and cover grabbed me but I went in with a bit of trepidation, not knowing what to expect. As it turned out, I needed have worried. This was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to just about everyone.

1967: Four young female scientists invent a time travel machine in their remote lab in Cumbria. They become known as the pioneers: the women who led the world to a future where no knowledge is unattainable.

2016: Ruby Rebello knows that her beloved grandmother was one of the pioneers, but she refuses to talk about her past. Ruby's curiosity soon turns to fear however, when a newspaper clipping from four months in the future arrives in the post. The clipping reports the brutal murder of an unnamed elderly lady.

Could the woman be her Granny Bee?

This book is set in a world where time travel was invented in 1967 and is now, in the early twenty-first century, a normal part of life. It's a more common and established part of society than, say, space travel is, with a large British organisation overseeing the system and policing time travellers across the timeline. The story follows the inventors of time travel and some of the younger generation that come into contact with it one way or another.

A central plot element is a locked-room murder, which is discovered by one of the characters and for which both victim and perpetrator and initially mysterious. Mental illness and psychology are also central to the plot. The book examines the psychological effects of time travel and what underlying conditions they may exacerbate, as well as sensitively dealing with a traumatised character. There's also the psychology of time traveller culture, which is very interesting and disturbing and also central to the plot.

As might be expected from a book about time travel, The Psychology of Time Travel is told out of chronological order, with relatively short chapters that are only a scene or two long. While the purpose of each chapter wasn't necessarily obvious while reading it, they quickly slotted together to form a larger picture. The book is also well-written enough so as to be interesting even when I wasn't sure how a particular scene was linked to the whole. This intricate mosaic of story is what impressed me most about this book and made for an unexpectedly excellent read.

One last thing I want to mention is what the author has done with the gender distribution of characters. Basically, she's written a gender swapped reality so that all the key characters — all four time travel pioneers and all the other point of view characters — are female. I can only think of one male character that wasn't there as someone's father or husband, including most of the background characters (though there were a couple of male secretaries). I didn't realise this immediately, but it was a fun change of pace to play "spot the male character" rather than the reverse.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Psychology of Time Travel and found it to be an excellent read. I recommend it to anyone who doesn't hate time travel or women and enjoys some psychological exploration in their reads. It's particularly impressive for a debut novel and I am very interested to see what Mascarenhas brings us in the future.

5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2018, Head of Zeus
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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