Octavia, Daughter Of God by Jane Shaw. Jonathan Cape, £18.99.
THEY say God moves in mysterious ways. But, even still, you could be forgiven for not expecting the new messiah to be a vicar’s daughter called Mabel who lives in Bedford.
But, unbelievably, this was the foundation of the Panacea Society, a community of women formed in the wake of the First World War.
Central to their belief that they would achieve immortality here on Earth was that Mabel Barltrop, a vicar’s widow who had spent time in psychiatric hospitals, was the new messiah.
Jane Shaw tells the story with a great deal of respect for the women – and a few men – who lived together, following their own rules and regulations and sought a new way of living.
She gained the trust of the few remaining members of the Panacea Society, giving her access to a vast quantity of material and pays them back through this responsible re-telling of their fascinating history.