[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
A book that started a little on a rocky road for me, due to the writing style that I found at first fairly abrupt (too many short sentences stuck together), but that fortunately grew on me quite fast after the first few chapters.
The story doesn’t deal much with the science aspect of time travel, which in itself was rather wishy-washy—readers looking for ‘believable’ hard science won’t find it here. And I admit it rubbed me the wrong way at first, but I kept telling myself that when it came to this specific book, it wasn’t the important point here. The interest of “The Psychology of Time Travel” lies, like the title clearly hints at, in the characters’ psyches and relationships, in how the capability of travelling in different time periods affects them, in good and bath ways. All this articulated around a mystery and an investigation, following the discovery of a dead woman in a locked room.
Through the eyes of several characters, including the four pioneers of time travel and some of their descendants, we get to explore the various effects that going back and forth in time can have on human beings as well as on events. Here, the question of paradox, for starters, is tackled in the way events cannot be altered, even should a person go back in time several times to try and prevent it; as a result, time investigations do not aim at preventing a murder, for instance, but at making sure that enough clues can be gathered in advance so as to be able to convict the criminal. Following a similar logic, any person can also meet themselves in the past or future without causing the fabric of time to rip, which gives rise to interesting possibilities, such as dancing a ballet with several of one’s selves, having one’s older selves one’s (re)attend one’s own wedding, or even having sex with oneself.
With some characters going back and forth in times, it was sometimes a little difficult to properly follow the flow of the story; however, dates and names being provided at the beginning of each chapter help to quickly find one’s bearing again after the first moments of wondering who’s doing what, and when. The more the story progresses, the clearer it becomes, and there’s no confusion left at the end as to ‘whodunnit’ and why.
Exploring time travel-related mental health problems was definitely interesting, too. Due to one of the founders, Barbara, collapsing during the first live interview the scientists gave in 1967, her ex-colleagues, who kept forging onwards and created the Time Travel Conclave, adopted a hard stance when it came to psychological issues—especially Margaret, who immediately took the reins. On top of weeding out people who experienced some issues only once, for instance (such as situational depression), the Conclave paved the way for ruthless and dehumanising ‘tests’ and ‘hazing’, such as forcing a new recruit to announce to a person that their parent was about to die; this, and other acts, were meant to inure them to feelings and fear of death, so that the travellers wouldn’t develop issues after seeing their beloved ones die, then meeting them in the past, or conversely. This approach was both completely inhuman but also fascinating, in a way, because there’s no denying that such events -would- potentially traumatise a person (and repeatedly)—nor that people are able to behave in such callous ways, all the more when enabled through an organisation (see the Stanford Prison Experiment and the likes). The author explored several possibilities, such as that of an anorexic traveller who could only eat if going back to on a specific day in the past. It’s very likely triggering, or bordering on it—but nonetheless a different approach to the potential side-effects of time travel, veering away from the more usual ‘grandfather’s paradox.
It could probably have gone even further and deeper than that, too; so it’s a bid too bad it didn’t.
Where the novel lacked for me (and where it wasn’t helped by the writing style either) was in characterisation. I felt that I didn’t get to properly know most of the characters, the kind of people they were, and the way they built their relationships. Probably the only relationship that made sense was that of Bee and Ruby. The problem here came mainly, I think, from the fact that events couldn’t be changed, so whenever someone travelled in the future and saw that they were going to be in a relationship with someone, then back in the present, the relation just happened because that’s how it was meant to be—we don’t see it develop. (Also, due to that ‘fated’ approach, the Conclave’s judiciary system also made… uhm… well it did make some kind of sense, but also not so much at all.)
Conclusion: 3 stars.