Published by Head of Zeus
In a world where time travel exists, who would become a time traveller? When would you travel to? Why would you travel and with whom would you travel? These aren’t questions necessarily posed or even answered in Kate Mascarenhas’s debut novel, but they are plenty more mind-bending and head-scratching propositions to keep you occupied in this unexpected story of relationships, trauma and sisterhood wrapped around a murder mystery the likes of none seen, or solved, before.
In 1967 four women invent time travel. Scientists all, each with a different discipline, each with wildly different personalities and motivations, successfully send inanimate objects a few minutes into the future, then they move on to rabbits and eventually themselves. Just one of the pioneers, Barbara, experiences adverse effects (much later, and far too late for her, attributed to jet-lag triggered bi-polar disorder, a condition that could have been exacerbated by flying long-haul and may have happened anyway, not as a by-product of time travel). An embarrassing incident during the announcement of the discovery of time travel live on the BBC means she’s off the team, never to time travel again.
Jumping to January 2018, a body riddled with bullets has been found in a room locked from the inside, with no means of escape and no smoking gun. The unfortunate who discovers the body, on her first day of work no less, is understandably traumatised and becomes obsessed with solving the murder. Her therapist, Ruby, just happens to be Barbara’s grand-daughter, and may have cause to solve the murder herself.
Told alternately from the points of view of a number of different characters (some more prominent than others) and multiple times, this is a terrifically inventive twist on the time travel genre. Mascaranhas has expertly built a world where time travel exists, and explores the inside culture of the Conclave that controls it and the implications that time travel has on the travellers themselves. Much like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Psychology of Time Travel doesn’t feel like a science fiction book – perhaps more like speculative fiction, although it takes place in our timeline, just an alternative one.
There’s a lot of digest. First and foremost is the relationships between the four women and the other protagonists and their further relationships with lovers, husbands, children and, to put it bluntly, death. Then there’s the endlessly fascinating time travel stuff, and the psychology of it of course; what it’s like to interact with future selves, if it’s beneficial, or healthy to return to relatives or loved ones who have died, where (or when) you can travel to – in this imagination there’s no returning to a time prior to the discovery of time travel and an as yet unexplained limit as to how far someone can travel), what the mental health effects are of travelling throughout time, and how knowledge of the future can corrupt or comfort.
What makes the writing so skilled and the novel such a success is the slow build of plot, introduction and expansion of characters and drip-drabs of information pertaining to the effects of time travel on the people who do it and the implications for the world around them. The characters are well defined and fascinating – we have Odette, the Archaeology graduate who discovers the dead body, and her burgeoning detective skills that drive the narrative towards solving the mystery further. There’s Grace, one of the four inventors whose flirty nature and artistic bent belie her utter genius and Margaret, the leader of the four, a baroness turned scientist turned head of the Conclave whose tendency towards steeliness and even cruelty shapes the fates of all involved.
Male characters get a fairly short thrift; only two or three are given chapter titles and even then they’re alongside the women they are companions to, but seeing as the crux of the book centres on the female relationships it makes sense narratively. A hugely entertaining and satisfying read, wrapping your head around the science and psychology innovations is only half the job. The heart of the matter is how, and when, we let friendship and fate collide.
First published in The Tuam Herald on 12 09 18