I requested Catherine Taylor’s first novel “Beyond the Moon” after reading that it is time-travel fiction. Time travel in books and film is one of my most favorite themes in fiction. The “how” and the “why” questions of time travel find their way to the surface often as I read. Even though my imagination is in the driver’s seat, the reasoning and logical side of me needs more information.
This story opens in 1916 at Coldbrook Hall, then a military hospital, in Sussex, England. Second Lt. Robert Lovett, a British soldier during World War I, is a patient who suffers a loss of vision as well as neurological symptoms, the result of hysterical blindness. Robert has this deep sense of honor in serving his country. He is devoted to his men, too. Despite losing his sight, he still wants to return to battle. The end of the first chapter has the awaited cliff-hanger that connects his life with that of a 21st century medical student.
Louisa Casson is also in Sussex; however, the date is in April 2017. And speaking of cliff-hangers, she happens to be on one — the cliffs of Sussex Downs — drinking and mourning the loss of her grandmother. Awaking from a drunken stupor, Louisa realizes she is still on the cliff. She falls as she tries to catch her bearings and is taken to the hospital. People think she tried to commit suicide. No one believes her when she tells them she was just drunk and lost her bearings. She is taken to Coldbrook Hall, now a psychiatric hospital. During her stay, Louisa meets Kerry who convinces her to take a smoke break, even though she doesn’t smoke. They explore this dilapidated wing of the hospital. Louisa decides to look around this secret place leaving Kerry behind with her hidden stash of vodka, biscuits, and chocolate. Hearing a man calling out, Kerry goes to seek him out. “At the end of the landing, oddly, there stood a perfectly intact hardwood door with a polished brass handle.” And they meet!
I will say my reason and logic fought me a bit. Imagination eventually said, “Don’t make me pull this car over!” At first, I balked over the idea that Louisa could be held against her will at a psychiatric hospital. I thought, “Money drives the train. If she had no money, she’d be out sooner.” But then I researched this online. Evidently, someone can say a person is suicidal or is displaying harmful behaviors, and that person will be held in the short-term. Can this person refuse treatment? Yes, but if an emergency situation arises where staff feel the patient needs calming, then they can work around the free will of the patient apparently.
Knowing this truth lent a frightening realism to Louisa’s stay at Coldbrook Hall. I wanted her out! Hindsight being 20/20, Louisa would have been better off saying, “I was trying to take a selfie.” People do like to take selfies on cliffs these days, based on recent articles in the news. Louisa ends up in the hot seat with this seriously demented nurse from the gates of Hell — Sharon Bell – “she of the melting face,” and known by the nickname: “Enema.” Through sessions with a consulting psychiatrist, Louisa unearths previous episodes of trauma in her life. This novel thus has two characters who have witnessed or been privy to traumatic events in their lives. Together they “grow that thread of steel” using one of Taylor’s images, to survive and thrive as they work through times of blinding fear.
I am always in search of answers when I read time travel fiction. Taylor leaves clues as to how Louisa finds herself in 1916/1917. Some questions I had as I read: “Why is it that only Robert could see her?” “Why is she wearing a dressing gown with the name ‘Rose Ashby’ embroidered on the lapel? Louisa moves from 2017 to 100 years in the past – back and forth — until eventually settling in 1917 when she becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in WWI. I thought: “Is she in a coma in 2017?” That’s also when she and Robert have separate storylines. They’re living in the same year – 1917 – but they’re apart. I felt the pacing slow at this point. Taylor worked to engage the senses with many details about what a soldier and a VAD nurse would experience during WWI. She is very effective in her delivery. It just runs a bit long. Louisa’s work sounds exhausting and overwhelming. Robert as well took in so much death, decay, and destruction all around him. I was waiting for the darkness to descend again for him. But I found myself waiting for them to reconnect. I knew it had to happen sooner or later. I just wanted the former.
I will write up a sidebar to this blog post. “Beyond the Moon” reminded me of a book series and a movie that use the theme of time travel in ways that complement this novel. Thank you to Netgalley.com for this free Kindle copy I received for review. For more behind the scenes information about “Beyond the Moon” go to https://catherinetaylor.net/beyond-the-moon/