The Pyschology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Spurious Chaos – Blurred Boundaries

So, lets open the Blurred Boundary category for Spurious Chaos 2019.  As I’ve got older, I like books that splice and dice genres.  They’re a lot less predictable and increasingly we can see that even literary fiction is starting to absorb the fantastical. For me this means we can open the universe to even more types of stories. What I want to see in the finalists is how they merge the genres to give us something new – that feeling is here someone takes their influences and gives us a new direction. I think ultimately, I’m looking for creativity in this category.

I would like to thank the publisher for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Head of Zeus

Price - £14.99 Hardback £1.89 Kindle eBook

Published – Out Now

1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened up the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril.

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady.

2018: When Odette discovered the body, she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

My all-time favourite TV show is Doctor Who so the concept of time travel is rather dear to my heart. The ability to explore anywhere or when is just so tempting.  Its more recent regenerations have now explored the complications that time travel can throw up especially upon your own life. It’s also very hard not to notice alterative history becoming a key theme be that the dystopia of the Handmaid’s Tale or the weird alterative universes in TV shows like Fringe. In this smart and simply gorgeous novel Kate Mascarenhas delivers a brilliant tale of four women who changed the world and then the consequences of their actions that span time and all the highs and lows of being human.

In 1967 four exceptionally gifted scientists have a plan for time travel and have attracted funding for the military and other parties. Eventually they successfully transport Patrick Troughton (the bunny not the actor) a few hours into the future.  Very quickly the four geniuses experiment sending themselves to meet their future selves. Funding beckons and these four are going to be the equivalent of the moon landing astronauts but then during their first live BBC interview Barbara has a nervous breakdown. Her colleagues Margaret, Grace and Lucille all decide that although she is recovering, she cannot be involved any further in their future work to aid her recovery and not bring any future public disdain on their own work.

Margaret becomes the head of the time travelling business known as The Conclave that stretches at least 300 years into the future; Grace is a celebrated artist and time traveller while Lucille manages the flow of information from the future into the past and investigate crime. This is a universe where no reset button gets pressed – time travel is an accepted part of life for fifty years. Crimes are investigated; foods from the future traded and plant life saved from extinction. Families understand they may meet their children as adults. There are a wholeweb of time travellers passing within and beyond their own timestreams trading love, ideas and jokes. While the remaining three pioneers move into fame and fortune Barbara marries and has only revealed to her only grandchild Ruby her illustrious past. Which is just when we are told of a mysterious death six months in the future where an unnamed woman is killed in a lock room.

 Lets just start off by saying this is one of those tales that just sucks you in. These four women are competent, respected and assured in their beliefs and they succeed. The early part of the novel is very much your standard pioneering scientists in the lab, and it helps they’re such a good blend from upper class Margaret, focused Barbara, working-class Grace and the well-balanced Lucille. That moment of triumph and then the despair as we see what happen to Barbara really takes you inside the heart of the tale. The brilliance of the novel is that the next fifty years are then told in a weaving selection of tales from past, present and future (out of sequence) working out how these characters got to their final dynamic.

The core of the plot is the mystery as to which woman has been murdered and by whom? We have four very bright central characters who have had huge impacts on each other; not all of which have been positive. Alongside them we have a range of women (and this novel is filled with women in key roles and no one questions why they have these roles0 who across various time periods play key roles supporting the four from Ruby wanting to piece her Gran’s life together to Odette a woman who when she discovered the body as part of her shift at a museum finds she is understandably haunted and ants to understand what caused this trauma. We also see the lives of the Conclave Agents especially Fay who we meet at times; out of order, ranging as a new eager agent to one jaundiced by the decisions and tasks she has done for the greater good. It’s a very very good mystery and the way that clues from the future start to influence the investigations of the past make this a unique investigation!

But added to crime, science fiction and alternate history and its biggest success is the study of how humans will react to time travel and trauma. The ability to see your future self; meet your family in the past and explore humanity’s highs and lows is intoxicating and possibly means the recruits are more towards the more extreme sides of humanity.  Several of their hazing rituals for new agents are horrifying and cruel they see those of us in linear time as limited. Is that just humanity; time travel’s psychological impact or possibly the result of those in charge creating a cold corporate culture? You could easily see this as commentary for other industries that have had huge impacts on the lives of mortals. But I also liked that the lives of the non-time travellers such as Ruby and Odette are equally fascinating. There is a reminder that time travel can be an emotional experience for us not simply a mechanical one. Odette is trapped in her memories discovering the grisly crime scene and Ruby is cut off from living her life until she meets a time travel who she tentatively wants to start a relationship with (provided they can be trusted). Mascarenhas can very easily move the reader from warm family comedy to horror to romance in just a few pages and considering this is not a giant tome of a story its pacing is excellent.

I am so glad I read this book. I think if you enjoy the work of Claire North and particularly The Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I think you’ll really enjoy it. Mascarenhas is clearly a talented author who I am going to be watching for future novels with huge interest.  If I read many more books as good as this in 2019 then we are in for an exceptional year.