Mystery of the Month – The Psychology of Time Travel

“She asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told her: solve mysteries.” – Odette

Me too, Odette. As a big fan of murder mystery novels, I was immediately attracted to the concept of a time travel murder mystery. The Psychology of Time Travel, the debut novel by Kate Mascarenhas, is exactly that, and much more.

In 2018, archaeology student Odette finds a dead body in the basement of a toy museum. The elderly woman is riddled with bullets, but no one knows who she is. The door was locked from the inside and there’s no weapon. Odette becomes obsessed with solving the mystery – who is the victim? And who is the murderer?

In 1967, four female scientists invent time travel. Margaret, Grace, Lucille and Barbara invite the BBC to witness their achievement but the interview goes horribly wrong when Barbara has a mental health breakdown as a result of excessive time travel. Soon everyone is talking about ‘the time traveller who went mad’ and Margaret encourages the other scientists to permanently shut Barbara out or risk jeopardising their operation.

In 2017, Barbara (Granny Bee) and her psychologist granddaughter, Ruby, receive a newspaper clipping foretelling the death of an elderly woman five months into the future. Who sent the letter? Worse still, does the letter predict the death of Granny Bee?

In The Psychology of Time Travel, Kate Mascarenhas has created a detailed alternate version of reality. Time travel is controlled by an organisation called the Conclave, headed by power-hungry elitist Margaret. Time travellers wear a tracker watch that counts heartbeats to determine what year they’d be in if they’d lived their life in chronological order. Multiple selves co-exist in the same timeline including several versions of oneself attending their own funeral. There’s also a time-travel generated bacteria called macromonas which can be fatal.

The novel cleverly explores the consequences of time travel, including its impact on mental health and attitudes towards death. As time travellers can visit loved ones and versions of themselves after they have passed away, the Conclave introduces compulsory initiation rituals for new time travellers to neutralise their responses to death. The impact of these rites is that time travellers become alienated from ordinary people, as one character muses: “I like watching people have emotions I don’t feel anymore.”

In an interview with publisher Head of Zeus, chartered psychologist Mascarenhas has said she was influenced by psychological screening tests conducted by NASA and her thorough world-building is demonstrated by an appendix at the end of the book containing a detailed psychometric test for time travellers.

The Psychology of Time Travel is noteworthy for its large cast of entirely female viewpoint characters, all of whom are diverse and representational. The story is strengthened by the core relationships between these characters including familial (mother/daughter, grandmother/granddaughter) and romantic, particularly the relationship between present-day Ruby and past Grace which is described by a beautifully written allegory – ‘my life is a ring of a very strange shape’.

A thought-provoking and deeply original novel that will leave you believing anything is possible.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas is published in Australia by Harper Collins.

Standout Simile: –

They heard Ruby’s approaching footfall and then she was there, yawning with her hair tangled like the wool shepherds save from hedgerows.

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