A SECRET WOMAN by Rose Solari (Alan Squire, £15)

Solari’s background as a poet — with two published collections, Difficult Weather and Orpheus in the Park — and her research on the divergence between British and American poetry in the 1950s are reflected in the lyrical prose of her debut novel.

In her recent seminar at Kellogg College, Oxford, where US-born Solari is spending two terms, she explained how her book and those of Penelope Lively, Don De Lillo, Barry Unsworth and Marina Warner all feature a significant death, multiple time-lines — and, as their driving engine, a revelatory object that prompts a quest fraught with difficulty.

For Louise, the main character in A Secret Woman, it is a wooden chest.

Six months after the death of her estranged mother Margaret, Louise — a feisty, passionate and sensual artist — inherits a box she painted long ago for Margaret when they were close. Lifting the lid, she discovers a collection of manuscripts, old leather-bound books, a dictionary of saints, photos and a floppy disk, tantalising "bits and pieces of stories".

Convinced they hold the secret to Margaret’s hidden life, she turns for help to her siblings and to her mother’s English lover, only to meet with resistance.

She then goes alone to London, Oxford and finally Glastonbury — "a jumble of Christian and pagan, of folklore and history" — where her mother engaged with another Margaret: a 12th-century mystic of subversive views. In London, she recognises her mother reflected in a bookshop window by the characteristic way she lifts her hand to smooth her hair, before Margaret and the bookshop disappear, leaving “the world as it was”. Solari lifts the veils of the past to uncover another place and time in this moving and evocative novel.