The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (review copy from Head of Zeus) is an exciting and fresh take on time travel.  It’s hard to tell a good time travel story.  It’s far too easy to get caught in grandfather paradoxes or the desire to change the course of world events.  But rather than focus on the impact of time travel on the world around us, Kate Mascarenhas shows us the impact of the technology on the time travellers themselves.  How are you affected when you know that events are fixed no matter what you seek to do?  This is the story of the four women who invented the technology enabling time travel, and the rivalries between them.

The wonderful Hidden Figures-style opening to the novel shows us four women in rural Cumbria in 1967 on the verge of inventing time travel.  They are close friends, working in an isolated spot with limited resources.  But the group starts to break apart when one of the four, Barbara, suffers a breakdown on live television as they announce their amazing invention.  She has suffered the temporal equivalent of jetlag, after spending too long time travelling in a way that has upset her circadian rhythms.  Fast-forward 50 years, and Barbara’s grand-daughter Ruby is sent a news clipping from the future about the mysterious death of an unidentified woman in the basement of London’s Toy Museum.  Ruby is intrigued and attempts to solve this curious locked-room mystery.

This novel is a novel of fantastic strengths.  The cast is almost-entirely women, with men pushed to the periphery in supporting parts or existing only as absences.  It features a wonderful queer romance.  There is art inspired by time travel, including anomalous items that only exist in time loops.  Time travellers create their own jargon.  And it is great on a very British style of bureaucracy.  Of course the Government would set up an agency to manage time travel, with its own currency, judicial system, the use of technology to help the future by preventing extinction events, and the exploration of marketing opportunities by selling goods from the future in the present.

But where this novel really shines is in the psychology its title foregrounds.  People behave differently when they know they can travel through time and their actions are largely irrelevant.  They become hardened to death because it is inevitable, and grief has less meaning when you can travel back in time to visit a person while they are still alive.  Risk-taking behaviours increase, because when one knows the date and time of one’s own death there is no peril.  And infidelity is common when a person is disconnected from their own timeline and the significance of those emotional connections decreases.

This is a fantastically intriguing puzzle box of a novel, with a very satisfying payoff.

Goodreads rating: 4* 

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Paris Adrift – E J Swift

Time travel novels are relatively rare.  It’s too easy to get caught up in a knot of grandfather paradoxes and endless self-referential loops.  Plus Doctor Who has pretty much sewn up the market.  Time travel stories work best when the stories told are small, and personal.  That’s what E J Swift gives us with Paris, Adrift (review copy from Rebellion).

Hallie is a teenager escaping from a difficult family home by putting off university, travelling to Paris and working in a bar.  Nudged towards a bar called Millie’s by a mysterious stranger, she finds a new family in the transient community of Paris bar staff.  She also finds an anomaly in the keg room beneath the bar that enables her to travel through time.  Unbeknownst to Hallie, she’s been selected as the person most likely to be able to avert a dystopian, apocalyptic future by making small changes to the course of events.

Hallie’s story is a coming of age tale.  She grows in confidence and maturity as she comes to terms with her challenging family upbringing.  It’s a love song to that time in our life when we first move away from home and discover self-reliance.  Hallie has the chance to reinvent herself in Paris, connecting with a diverse group of likeable people, both in her contemporary Paris, and the city throughout time.

The world-building has a pleasing sense of mystery, with the anomaly left unexplained, and the plot moves along swiftly.  Paris, Adrift is an enjoyable story told with pace and skill.

Goodreads rating: 3*

Bury the Living – Jodi McIsaac

I approached Jodi McIsaac’s novel Bury the Living (review copy from 47 North through NetGalley) with a high degree of trepidation. Anyone that knows my academic and professional background will know why a time travel novel set during the Irish Civil War would be a risky proposition. And, at risk of damning it with faint praise, the book was nowhere near as bad as I had been fearing  
The story follows Nora O’Reilly, an aid worker from Belfast, who is also a former member of the IRA. She returns home for the funeral of a former IRA colleague, before following a mysterious dream summons to Kildare, where she is told to seek out Brigid. She meets a woman from a mysterious sect called the Brigidine sisters and finds herself sent back in time to help the man she saw in her dreams. She finds him, but he refuses her help, and with no clear sense of what her purpose is, Nora sets out to avert the Partition of Ireland in an attempt to prevent the death of her brother during the Troubles.  While the details of Nora’s childhood explain how she would become a member of the IRA, I wasn’t convinced that an aid worker who had subsequently experienced the human impact and aftermath of violence and civil war would remain so fanatically and unquestioningly wedded to the republican cause. The guilt she clearly feels at the death of her brother was not enough of a motivation for me. I would have hoped, at least, for a little more inner conflict within Nora on the issue. The Civil War setting, itself one of the most difficult and contested parts of Irish history would have presented the perfect opportunity to interrogate ideas of nationalism and their human impact. But apart from a few stray references to differences of opinion, there is no real effort to examine issues of ideology. For example, when Nora’s friend chooses to go on hunger strike for the cause, Nora’s main concern seems to be founded on her knowledge from the future that such strikes make no difference to the success of the cause.  

The novel’s use of mythology feels like a slightly clunky overlay to the story. It falls into the trap of being Oirish at times and no explanation was given as to how or why Nora should be the one to get mixed up in the events of the book.  

This is the first in a series of books, which will no doubt see Nora visit other key points of Irish history. But I won’t be seeking out the sequels.

Goodreads rating: 2*