Blair's Reviews > The Psychology of Time Travel

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2018-release, netgalley, past-and-present, sff, read-on-kindle, first-novels

The Psychology of Time Travel presents an alternate version of recent history that is captivating from the first page. In 1967, time travel is invented by a team of four female scientists – Margaret, Lucille, Grace and Barbara, or, as they're often known, 'the pioneers'. However, the process has a destabilising effect on Barbara: she has a bizarre public outburst when the group present their research to the media, and is thereafter admitted to a psychiatric ward. Excommunicated by the pioneers (at the insistence of Margaret, their queen bee), she is largely excised from the history of time travel. The others go on to great success, forming a powerful organisation known as the Conclave to facilitate and control the use of time machines.

It's not easy to summarise the plot from then on, as it skips between time periods and characters, and becomes rather complex (the interweaving of timelines makes The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle look like child's play). Ruby, Barbara's granddaughter, is the closest thing the book has to a protagonist. In 2017, she receives a cryptic 'message' from the future: the death certificate of a woman in her eighties, dated to January 2018, with the name left blank. Convinced this is a warning of Barbara's impending death, she quietly begins to investigate the workings of the secretive Conclave. In 2018 there is Odette, a museum volunteer – seemingly unconnected to the others – who finds the body of an unidentified woman in a boiler room. This room has been locked from the inside; the victim was shot several times, but no gun can be found. So, as well as a story about, well, psychology and time travel, this novel becomes a murder mystery.

I loved that The Psychology of Time Travel is so joyfully female-focused without slipping towards the dreaded 'feminist dystopia' genre I've begun to find so tedious. It prioritises female relationships: the professional alliance formed by the pioneers is crucial, as is Ruby's bond with her grandmother, and the central romance is between two women. The women in this book don't always do very well at being leaders or partners or mothers – they're imperfect, and sometimes they're downright awful. All this is achieved without the narrative coming off as sanctimonious, without disparaging male characters, and while embracing diversity in surprising ways.

My one complaint would be that in one of the antagonists we have that hoary old cliche: the woman whose life is empty because she is unmarried and childless, and must therefore go around making life miserable for others. This book is better than that, and I wish there'd been room to explore this particular character's motives beyond such a crude explanation.

The worldbuilding is extremely complex, since the book must establish not only a broad cast of characters but the science behind time travel; how it is governed and regulated; how time travellers interact with their older and younger selves and family members; the time travellers' initiation rituals, habits and slang. There's simply so much going on, and consequently, events towards the end feel a little rushed and lacking in detail. In some ways it seems unfinished. But that could be intentional; perhaps Mascarenhas intends to turn this into a series?

If there is another book about this world and these characters, I will read it. The Psychology of Time Travel is rich, convincing and, above all, fun.

I received an advance review copy of The Psychology of Time Travel from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Reading Progress

August 8, 2018 – Shelved
September 5, 2018 – Started Reading
September 6, 2018 –
page 80
September 7, 2018 –
page 197
September 8, 2018 –
page 258
September 8, 2018 – Finished Reading

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