Head of Zeus | 2018, Pb 2019 | 371p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1967 and four very different women are revelling in the glory of having invented a time travel machine. But in this moment of celebration, in full view of the media, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a very public mental breakdown and is removed from the programme. Her former colleague and the leader of the group, Margaret, makes sure that she can never return. The programme cannot be stigmatised in any way. Half a century later, in 2018, Odette discovers the dead body of an elderly woman in a locked room in a toy museum. The reason for the woman’s death is uncertain but Odette becomes obsessed and is determined to discover the truth. She isn’t the only one. Psychologist Ruby is Barbara’s granddaughter and, at last, Barbara is ready to talk about what happened just over fifty years before. But when, in 2017, a message arrives from the near future, Ruby becomes very afraid for her Granny Bee. Something terrible is going to happen. It will be extraordinary.
And so begins one of the most incredible novels I’ve read this year – for several years – and it’s all the more remarkable when you think that this wonderful book is Kate Mascarenhas’ debut. It’s an enormous achievement. The Psychology of Time is an immensely rewarding novel that is also very cleverly complex and so you do need to pay close attention. It’s certainly worth it. It is mesmerising.
The narrative jumps and skips backwards and forwards throughout, following the lives of a group of women over fifty years or so, but mostly focusing on events in 2017 and 2018, moving to and fro between the years and between the women during different stages of their lives. And making it even more complex and absolutely riveting is that sometimes we meet a character in the ‘wrong time’, when she is time travelling. There is none of that directive that we’re used to that two versions of the same person can’t co-exist in the same time – here you can have as many of yourselves as you like. You can revisit key times in your life and share those times with a limitless number of yourselves. You can even dance with yourself, if you fancy it. I love this element of the novel, and that’s partly because these are the most fantastic characters you could hope to meet and seeing them in different phases of their lives is enthralling.
There are so many characters to love here but my favourite is Grace, one of the original four scientists and also an intriguing artist. She has such a delightful nature and the relationship she forms in the novel is captivating and brings with it moments of pure poignancy and tenderness. I’m not going to say more about the characters because you must discover them and fall in love with them for yourself. There are several potential favourites for you to choose from. I also loved how they are all women in various stages of their rich lives, and the fact that the vast majority of the novel’s characters are women isn’t laboured. It feels natural and they’re treated with such affection. Although not all of them are good.
The distant future is only glimpsed and it’s worrisome. We hear a little of its draconian laws, and learn that its reintroduction of a kind of medieval trial by combat – except here it’s trial by fate – is brought back into the present day for time travellers who do wrong. The science behind time travel is just touched upon but the main focus of the novel is on how it affects those who do it, as well as their families and those who love them. And here we spend time with people seeking to understand it, especially Ruby and Odette.
The mystery at the heart of The Psychology of Time Travel is such a good one and every bit as quirky and curious as the rest of the novel. But its enormous appeal lies mostly in these wonderful, wonderful people and the wit and warmth with which they’re described as they flit and dance through each other’s lives – and their own. Sometimes they can bring misfortune, even death, but mostly they bring love and such a depth of feeling.
There is so much to love about this glorious, beautifully crafted novel which treats time travel in such an original and enthralling way. It’s not possible to do The Psychology of Time justice, at least for me, and so I urge you to treat yourself and discover its wonders for yourself.