When you’re a time traveler, the people you love die, and you carry on seeing them, so their death stops making a difference to you. The only death that will ever change things is your own. -
In 2018, a young woman called Odette walks into the basement of the museum where she just started temping to find a murdered body in a locked room. The victim has no ID and her death is ruled inconclusive.
It is 1967 and time travel is on the cusp of being invented by four women: Barbara, Lucille, Grace, and Margaret, the team leader. These scientists have worked hard and secretly and when they finally have their breakthrough, their first few sessions are a resounding success. When they are finally able to tell the world, one of their own, Barbara, has a mental breakdown in front of the cameras, and the team leader has no other choice but to remove her from the program.
It is 50 years later, in 2017 and Ruby is a psychologist whose beloved Granny Bee was a time travelling pioneer. Granny Bee's past is shrouded in mystery but then a message from the future tells them of the death that will happen in the next few months. Ruby fears it will be her granny. Granny Bee—Barbara—fells this is a good chance for her to prove to Margaret she is more than able to time travel once again.
Unbeknownst to them, these events—apart in time—will irrevocably change their lives forever when Odette becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of the murdered body. As it turns out, anyone from any time could have killed the person.
Going back and forth in time, and with short, matter-of-fact sentences, the novel concerns itself with (just as is suggested by its title) the psychology of time travel, not only the way it affects the travelers and the people around them but also how it has effectively impacted the world. Under the oversight of the all-powerful Conclave, the time travelers here are curious observers and information collectors and there is very little concern for changing the past or the future. In fact, the past and the future are seen to be set in stone to the point where in the bleak future, there is a Justice System built on Draconian rules and a lot of religious fervor because of a renewed sense of “destiny.” In many ways, the most terrifying thing about the novel is the way that the future looks exactly like the far past.
The consequences of these ideas are also part and parcel of the psychological background of the novel: how does the knowledge of the future affect the individual? How are they influenced by seeing their family and friends die? Or seeing themselves die? In this world, several versions of oneself (the older “Silvers” or younger “Greens”) are often seen together at their own funeral, wedding or any other important occasion. For a more pointed example, Ruby never time travels but she falls in love with one of the pioneers, Grace, and there is never telling where in their history Grace exists but they both know their future is good when their wedding is attended by several happy Silver Graces.
So, what kind of person is best suited for time travelling? This becomes an increasingly uncomfortable question to be answered. Starting with Barbara’s breakdown in the 60s, the Conclave (and Margaret in particular) sees the importance of avoiding mental breakdowns altogether, for fear of failures associated with mental illnesses.
But, instead of creating a support system for its travelers, the negative stigma of mental illness is enough for the narcissistic and egotistic Margaret to create a model where any person with any inkling of having a propensity for mental illness of any kind is rejected. Potential time travelers have to go through a rigorous if antiquated process of scrutiny and once they are accepted there are cruel hazings in place. You can see through the cracks how noxious and discriminating it can all be, and how all of this has affected people and the Conclave itself negatively.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas is a heady mix of time travel thriller and murder mystery with a dash of a lovely (lesbian) romance and a lot of diversity. It is also thought-provoking – and often very uncomfortable, so trigger warning!—when addressing the topic of mental health.
In Booksmugglerish – 7 out of 10.