I knew right away I was going to love this book. (The gorgeous cover didn’t hurt.) It opens in 1967 when four young women scientists - Margaret, Lucille, Grace and Barbara - are pioneering time travel (with the help of a rabbit called Patrick Troughton). What’s not to love? But it all goes a bit pear-shaped for them - at least from a public image point of view - when Barbara has a bit of a meltdown in front of the BBC.
By 2017 time travel is a day to day reality, overseen by the Time Travel Conclave, a powerful quango under Margaret’s directorship. Barbara, now a grandmother and long since excluded from any possibility of time travel, receives a cryptic message from the future and expresses a wish to time travel one more time. Barbara’s granddaughter Ruby, a psychologist, is concerned about what the message could mean and seeks some answers.
And Odette, a young student, stumbles upon the body of a woman in a mysteriously locked room, and finds herself unable to move on until she can understand what has happened.
Stories about time travel always tie my brain up in knots - I find it impossible to keep it straight in my head. I probably need a flowchart. The plot here does become quite complex as the truth is gradually uncovered. But it’s the fully realised world Kate Mascarenhas has created here that is truly compelling - a world recognisably ours, yet fundamentally different. The Conclave itself operates outside of government jurisdiction, with its own laws and customs, led by the terrifying Margaret, who began to acquire a certain Thatcherishness in my imagination.
At one point, Odette observes upon visiting the Conclave that most of the time travellers she sees appear to be women, and likewise almost every character of significance in this book is female; the handful of male characters - Barbara’s husband, Odette’s father, a journalist - appear only fleetingly. It’s quite refreshing, since science fiction has so often been the other way round.
The book is a hugely thought provoking read which has mystery, adventure, an unexpected romance and a Biblically apocalyptic ending (... kind of).
Like the books that somehow appear for each time traveller, received from their “silver selves”, there’s something unknowably mysterious about time travel. The Psychology of Time Travel is deeply intriguing speculative fiction about its effects on the human psyche. I loved it.
The book is out on 9 August and can be preordered here