The Psychology of Time Travel was the only unplanned book I bought on my recently birthday book shopping spree. I just saw it in the ‘new hardbacks’ section of Waterstones and knew it had to be mine. I love books about time travel, and if it’s time travel run by an overarching corporation, woven into every day life, so much the better. See The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. for the best example I have ever read. But we’re here to talk about The Psychology of Time Travel, not D.O.D.O. (unfortunately – I love that book so hard), so here we go.
Plot summary: 1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened 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?
Star Rating for The Psychology of Time Travel: * * 1/2
I’d interpreted the blurb as a sort of sci-fi version of Hidden Figures. Four women invent time travel but are subsequently shoved to the back pages of history as white, male scientists rush forward and take all the credit for decades.
Yeeeeeeeah, it’s not that. I don’t know why I thought it was. Luckily, it’s better. I loved the plot of The Psychology of Time Travel, but then I was always going to. There is a huge, all-seeing organisation that controls time travel, but three of the women still run it and work there. Time travel is used for everything – criminal investigations, preserving extinct plants and… uh, other stuff that isn’t exactly clear.
The story follows an awful lot of characters, who I’ll discuss below, but the main point is that an unknown woman is found dead in a locked basement, with the remnants of time travelling bacteria on her body. The point of the book is, who is she and who killed her?
There’s a recurring theme of mental health within time travel, hence the title. Whether those with mental health difficulties should be barred from the work, and whether ongoing time travel can cause negative psychological effects. It’s quite subtle and forms only a few sub-plots. That’s not a criticism, as I think more would have been slightly too sledge-hammery. It provided a nice angle on the whole time travel shtick.
It jumps around between multiple people in multiple periods, which obviously results in a fairly complex plot. Time travel novels must be hellishly difficult to write. That said, as far as I can tell, it all makes perfect sense once you get your string, markers and drawing pins out.
Writing and Characters
Unfortunately it’s very difficult to follow. There are a lot of characters in this book and I frequently forgot who was related to who, and who could time travel and who couldn’t. The story is told from multiple POVs – everybody gets a look in. It follows far too many people, which makes it very difficult to keep everybody separate. This isn’t helped by the fact that every single person as the same ‘voice.’ They’re identical, and all flat.
Surprisingly for the subject matter, which deals frequently with death and bereavement, it’s very unemotional. I never really connected with the characters as they never really seemed to feel anything themselves.
The writing is just… not great. I mean, it flows easily enough and the dialogue is unstilted, for the most part. On a basic, ease of ‘moving your eyes along the page’ level, it’s fine.
But when you look closer, it’s just not. I’ve said that the characters have no personality, but they also have no reasoning behind what they do. Some characters help others when it would make zero sense for them to do so, and Odette (case in point – I originally typed Ruby because I CANNOT KEEP THEM STRAIGHT) wanting to pursue an investigation at all confuses me. The romances are very strange, and it’s not even acknowledged within the story that such a coupling would be unusual.
I loved the plot, or the idea of the plot, with The Psychology of Time Travel, and I can appreciate the complexity in putting something like this together.
I enjoyed reading the descriptiong of time travel, and the policies and issues involved. I’ve always found the subject fascinating. But there’s no getting around the fact that I didn’t really enjoy the story itself.
The characters are flat and far too numerous, which makes the plot confusing. There’s no emotion and the writing feels somewhat lazy. If the same effort had been put into the prose as with the plot, The Psychology of Time Travel could have been amazing. Unfortunately it’s just not at all memorable.
Read my review of The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (much recommended) or visit Kate Macarenhas’ website here.