The Psychology of Time Travel - Kate Mascarenhas

My friend Figgy was making status updates about this book, and despite it not being YA, I immediately felt like I had to read it. Luckily for me, it was available immediately to me on Netgalley (getting it onto a reading device was a whole other drama because I normally read mobi files and this was strictly only available in epub, and I had to reactivate my Adobe Digital Editions which had lay dormant, literally for years, and finally got to read it via Overdrive on my phone but my gosh, it was a drama and to be honest I almost cried, I was so excited to read this.)


It started off really well, initially. It had a really strong opening section introducing the concept and some key characters, certainly enough to grab the attention of a slush pile reader, an editor, or someone in a bookshop. So that was good.


But as the book went on, it also went downhill for me.



You know how Christopher Nolan used to make films that are studies into whatever he’s filming? Like how Memento is a study into the viewer’s memory, Batman Begins is a study of fear, The Prestige is a study in illusion, or Inception is a study in reality? This novel, about time travel, is a study about time travel with the reader as the subject. It’s a great concept, but not a good execution. Unable to tell this story linearly, we jump all around the place following characters and timelines seemingly at random.


The plot meanders between extra irrelevant points of view, and coupling this with the bland voice and lack of characterisation, makes many of the large cast of interchangeable characters seem like cardboard cut outs. I don’t know what anyone’s feeling or thinking. The prose is completely lacking in any kind of embellishment. It’s such a sterile way to tell a story. I just don’t give a shit. And I want to! I want to care about these characters, but in a novel that’s already time travelling itself, I can’t care. It’s chaotic and because of the blandness of character and voice, it’s also sometimes confusing – rather like this version of time travel itself (where older selves and younger selves frequently interact with little consequences).


After I finished the book I read the acknowledgements where the author referenced this book as being about ‘a time travelling grandmother’ and I went, “Oh, is THAT who the novel was meant to be about?” Too many characters that have little to no characterisation cause them all to blur. No one character is favoured and the two I thought were the ‘main’ characters often blurred in to one because of a lack of defining characteristics that went beyond ‘one is a lesbian and one is French.’


It feel like such a great concept but it lacks drama. I want to read books where characters actually feel emotion and you care about them. To me, this felt more like it would have been better as a textbook rather than a fictional narrative story with characters and plot. You know, like Quidditch Through the Ages pretends to be a textbook. Mostly because as far as I’m concerned, the author has a great concept, interesting glossary, and thoughtful, decent worldbuilding but was absolutely shite at writing characters with feelings, emotions, and anything that made them remotely human.



What it does have in its favour:

  • Worldbuilding. The jargon around time travelling: having sex with one’s past self is a ‘legacy fuck’, and you know it happens often enough that it has its own name. Children’s toys are created using the same technology. How they start doing something in the present because someone discovers it is done in the future. One character creates a painting in reverse. How time travel affects the people who do it and the people who don’t. So much lingo and regulations and tidbits that show the author thought about her world and not only the consequences but the little things that would happen as well.
  • So. Many. Female. Characters. It’s like Annihilation but about time travel.
  • Diversity! Sexual diversity, racial diversity, class diversity.
  • The psychology stuff was actually really good. How time travel messes with you.


What the novel lacked:

  • An ability to make me give even half a shit about anyone or the situation or anything, really. And look, I cry really easily. I’m a super emotional person. I own that. But I just didn’t care, I didn’t care who had died or how and who was responsible, and I really should have.


But look, if you’re interested in the psychology aspect of time travel and you’re prepared beforehand with knowledge that it’s shit at characters, you might find this more enjoyable than I did.


I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.