A Review of The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
The Psychology of Time Travel is a ring of a very strange shape. It’s full of genies and visits from dead people. Characters flit and fly about like stray bullets, from the 1960s to the 24th century. Although the majority of the narration takes place during 2017 and 2018, the action is all over the place, or rather all over the time, and sixty-two chapters assault the readers with titles including thirteen different characters’ names and dates ranging from March 1967 to April 2019. It’s all rather disconcerting and one would do well to stop fretting over details and resign oneself to fate and just read on to enjoy the zaniness of it all as the mystery unravels itself inexorably.
Odette is an archaeology student volunteering at a toy museum. At the beginning of her second shift on the job she finds a body in the basement. The corpse has multiple gunshot wounds. Even weirder, the body is in a room that had been bolt-locked from the inside. The door is the only possible means of egress or ingress. Traumatized, she seeks the help of Ruby, the psychologist whose grandmother helps invent time-travel and whose eventual wife is also a time-traveler. The inquest into the cause of death and the identity of the victim divines nothing. Unbeknownst to each other, and for their own reasons, both Odette and Ruby begin trying to find answers.
Each of them realize those answers exist only inside “The Conclave,” that spooky, quasi-governmental organization which promulgates and regulates time-travel. Both eventually come to realize that The Conclave has a toxic work culture; the result of the tyrannical and corrupt leadership of Margaret, who fears mental illness (for public relations reasons) so much that she essentially instills it in all of her employees. One of the sickest on-the-job-training rituals is “The Angel of Death ritual,” in which green employees are encouraged to forewarn people of the impending death of a loved one. It is common for young time-travellers to express contempt for their older selves once they have met and gotten to know each other. At some point in the novel, as readers follow the characters deeper and deeper down the Dickensian rabbit-hole of this plot, they could be forgiven for predicting that the resolution of the book would be very Murder on the Orient Express.
In case you had ever thought that time travel was a fun idea, this book might not change your mind. But in case you had ever thought time travelling would make you a better, nicer person, you will learn what is perhaps the point of Grace’s film, Death and the Time Traveler: “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.”
Maybe. But whose death leaves a body in the basement of a toy museum, how did it happen, and why, and what could the point of any of this be?
I don’t know. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the story to begin again.
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