Review: The Psychology of Time Travel

Kate Mascarenhas manages to do many things in The Psychology of Time Travel (2018), published by Head of Zeus. It’s captivating, original and above all, convincing. Four scientists, the pioneers, deliver a press release to the BBC on cracking time travel, but Barbara has a breakdown live on air, damaging the credibility of safe time travel. The book uses many different but equally endearing characters to enter various points throughout history, surrounding a murder mystery that somehow links to Barbara. It’s also refreshing to see female characters leading a narrative about pioneers of science.

The realism of the world Mascarenhas has built and how time travel is imagined within it is utterly compelling. The deliciously callous Margaret works with HR to establish strict psychological terms for time travel. Within the time travel agency, The Conclave, there are cruel hazing games like ‘The Angel of Death’ – a game in which a new agent is forced to tell someone from the past that their loved one is about to die, moments before they’re due to discover the body.

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Actions by time travellers do affect the future, but do not ‘change reality,’ as it were. One version of reality exists, with events observed as a result of any time traveller activity. When Odette is sent an hour back in time to solve (not ‘stop’) a theft, she realises that she doesn’t have time to prevent it. Instead, she manages to turn on a security camera so that there is footage captured for her to review when she returns to the present. The culprit of the theft can then be caught. She has not, however, changed the events that caused her to be sent back in time in the first place. That would create a paradox…

Even with all this world-building prowess, it feels as if there are missed opportunities. Barbara, one of the pioneers responsible for discovering time travel, suffers psychological trauma after taking a solo trip through time in the first chapters of the book. After she blacks out, there is little explanation offered as to what actually happened to Barbara on her trip, which feels like an omission. Whilst this untapped energy makes the plot feel a little reluctant to move at times, the mystery weaves itself together intriguingly and makes for a joyful read.