To all appearances a lady

“Audacious and very impressive. It is the struggle for self-knowledge and moral awareness that makes this a remarkable book.”

Alan Massie, The Scotsman

“Marilyn Bowering has written a whale of a yarn! She takes history, adventure, mystery and romance and fuses all of the elements into a fascinating whole.”

Chattanooga Times

“A  many layered and carefully choreographed novel about the sea coast that moves magically between two generations.”

Linda Spalding, Quill & Quire

“A strangely beautiful, haunting first novel. Bowering has created a magnificent character, at once mythical and human.”

Publishers Weekly

“I found myself rereading sentences, passages, whole pages, slowly consuming the words and the gorgeous details, a bolt of cloth, a whiff of opium smoke, a bit of polished bone.  Delicious.”

Renee Hulan, Malahat Review

“A vivid, absorbing, perceptive, sensitive, and spare. To All Appearances a Lady is a marvellous debut; to all appearances a paragon of dazzling imagination.”

Tom Adair, Scotland on Sunday

“Bowering synthesizes time past, time present and time-in-coincidence to create a boundless time and a boundless work of art.”

Doug Beardsley, Times Colonist

“Bowering’s novel is a powerful one, with a wealth of colour and a fine sense of drama.  It is positively Conradian, not only in its nautical lore but also in its epic sweep.”

Books in Canada

Visible Worlds


  “…a vast, sprawling feast of a book.  You finish reading it glad of the experience, aware that some of the ingredients were fabulous, even astonishing…dazzling language and poetic imagery…abound.”

The New York Times Book Review

 “…vividly imagined….. Bowering maps the overlapping territory between science and spiritualism, love and madness.  Her family melodrama, reminiscent of John Irving’s work….  Bowering’s characters [are] so compelling…. A wealth of poetic reflection on tragedy and human endurance.”

Publishers Weekly * starred review

 “… a writer willing to let her imagination soar into the realms of fantasy….  Exhilarating….   A real page-turner….  [readers] will find themselves enthralled….   [an] intricate narrative web in which Bowering ensnares her readers… [Bowering] is a fine story-teller.  Some of the descriptive passages, particularly of the frozen Arctic wastes, are spell-bindingly good.  Even better…is the warmth of feeling Bowering brings to the characterization.  We care about these people, on their strange pilgrimages of discovery.

The Telegraph

 “A novel of profound imagination and stylish writing”

Library Journal

  “…a richly imagined, assured work of delicate beauty…  Visible Worlds  teems with the raw energy of humans determined to survive the worst our planet and its inhabitants can dish out….. At some point, each of the book’s major characters disappears, only to be found by another character….  The effect of these overlapping vanishings and materializations is to break down the barrier between objective and subjective worlds – the war-torn visible worlds of the novel’s title and their flip side, the private worlds of faith or memory or the supernatural….   Bowering writes with a poet’s condensed, imagistic prose.  Her language, whether talking about science or mystical belief, is dense and resonant, yet easily readable….  With technical skills to match her idiosyncratic imagination and sense of how people behave, this is an author who seems capable of giving us fiction to learn from as well as to love…..  A shimmering, powerful story about the intertwined lives of three families at mid-century, this novel evokes both great public pain and private human beauty during a time of profound world tension.”

Portland Oregonian

 “…an exhilarating book….  [Bowering’s] power of uncluttered description is worth the price of admission on its own.  She also offers a sense of the sheer scale and mystery of life, be it never so painful and unfulfilled for the individual, which itself amounts to faith of a kind – faith at least in the power of art to render the awesome shape and variety of the world and the heroism of human migration across it.”

Orange Prize Shortlist Review – Sean O’Brien

“Any one of the characters could fill up a novel:  together they form a powerful, sweet, sad chorus.”

Los Angeles Times

  “Visible Worlds is not just another snow book….  Bowering keeps us hanging on like icicles until the dark and wonderful end.”

The Times (London)

“…Bowering’s plain prose and knack for incongruities make it a gripper, well worth its Orange Prize shortlisting.”

The Independent on Sunday

“I read Marilyn Bowering’s second novel, Visible Worlds, during one of the hottest weeks I can remember – and I couldn’t get rid of my goosebumps….  A swirl of chilling scenes with a foreboding story line that moves from Canada to Siberia, Germany and Korea.  Freezing temperatures and vast snow fields convey numbing isolation; eerily beautiful meteor showers and the aurora borealis touch on themes of magnetism and connection to place… .   Bowering has an amazing ability to weave many stories and events together….  She succeeded in showing our universe in constant flux and realignment…Bowering’s storytelling is enhanced by how she presents mysteries – some small, some big – then sprinkles clues during flashbacks, unveiling answers realistically, without dramatics, slowly building trust with the reader….  Visible Worlds reminds us we are all connected to each other and to our histories – and that our lives should be viewed as much more than just the world we can see.”

Seattle Times

“…a tour de force, lavish in its scale, complication and information….  All becomes clear as Bowering unteases the epic story of three families over 30 years, across three continents and through two wars.  With a fine balance of coolness and conviction, she pulls it off….   Visible Worlds is fashionably rich in research….  Yet the book doesn’t sink under all this weight.  On the contrary, it is plainly written and fast-paced and has a certain crispness that suggests Bowering resisted indulging her themes beyond the part they had to play in her overall plan….  Visible Worlds  is written with such panache and is so much fun to read …  It is a wonderful piece of storytelling.”

The Independent on Sunday

“A lyrical modern fable….  The otherworldly, almost folkloric sweetness of Bowering’s narrative casts a redemptive glow over this brooding tale of universal grief and suffering.  Its only real villain is the century itself, whose cruelty no community has been remote or innocent enough to escape unscathed.”

Boston Globe

 “…memorably chronicles the toll taken by wars and random accidents upon three families….  Like Pat Barker, Bowering is claiming territory that has long been a masculine preserve….  A narrative high-wire act, as well as a subtle meditation on chance, luck, and inevitability – for all of which war offers the perfect if drastic laboratory.”

Kirkus Reviews

 “….a grand, kaleidoscopic view of the world or worlds that Bowering has set out to explore.  It is an ambitious technical gamble, and it pays off in the end.  It is astounding that Bowering has been able to chronicle so much in what is a relatively short book.  The reader reaches the end with the sense of having undertaken a long, complex, enthralling journey in the company of a throng of tragic, ordinary, brave human beings whom he has grown to love….  ”

Alberto Manguel, The Globe and Mail

“Canada has developed a fine tradition of original women writers.  Marilyn Bowering will strengthen it with the publication of Visible Worlds, a novel that defies simple description…  Fine story-telling and crisp, allusive language make this a memorable novel.”

Peter Donaldson, The Bookseller

“Bowering not only uses coincidences to provide her plot with endless twists and turns, but, more intriguingly, she offers a vision of the world as a dizzyingly vast hive of unexpected, intricately complicated, sometimes hidden, only partially comprehensible conjunctions and interconnections….  Interspersed with [the] narrative about the Storrs, the Bones and the Fergussons is a breathtakingly vivid, starkly beautiful account of Fika, a young Soviet woman trying to make her way, alone and on foot, from Siberia across the polar icecap to … freedom….  Visible Worlds is a novel filled with the wonders – and horrors – of human and natural history.


“Bowering floats across the surface of time as gracefully as Fika glides along the ice; she writes lyrically but unobtrusively, letting the longings and hopes of her characters emerge of their own accord.  When time runs out for one of them, you are surprised to find out how much you care.”

The Guardian

 “Swooping from the high heavens through the high Arctic, mingling secrets of love gleaned from a closet in Winnipeg with the horrors of germ warfare, Marilyn Bowering’s narrative express rollicks with adventures and deceptions, mixing the fabulous with the terrifying on a meteoric ride.  Visible Worlds is a bold, blistering read, a must read, a meritorious novel of imaginative and moral power.”   

Trevor Ferguson

 “…often breathtakingly beautiful …”

The Observer

   “[Marilyn Bowering is one of] two more exceptionally gifted Canadian women novelists.”

Rob Cassy, The Bookseller

“…an amazing work that engages the reader’s imagination right from its mysterious opening scene….  The reader who is willing to go along for the ride is in for a rewarding treat.  Bowering is an accomplished writer who skillfully combines elements or realism, mysticism and the paranormal…. A compelling and absorbing story that readers will … want to read all in one sitting.”

The Manitoban

 “The story is constantly surprising and yet mysterious, the narrative tense and multi-layered, the writing frequently of great beauty.  I read it through in two sittings and expect to read it again, the second time to savour it.”

Sharon Butala

“Marilyn Bowering is a writer’s writer and a reader’s treasure.”

Susan Swan

  “[Visible Worlds]  is a fabulist invention filled with blazing comets, snowblindness, and one-armed circus performers.  Most of all, Visible Worlds is about the fragile nature of truth and identity…. A gripping story… by turns suspenseful and sorrowful, joyous and disturbing…. [Bowering’s] command of the telling line, the careful use of words, is evident throughout this book….  The characters are so rich and fascinating, the reader doesn’t want to leave them…”

Quill & Quire

“Bowering’s powerful descriptions and assured characterisation keep one absorbed as she meshes together the various elements in the novel.”

Mail and Guardian (South Africa)

“Complex, rich, poetic and inventive, Visible Worlds has plenty of storytelling to satisfy readers who lust after a good yarn.”  

David Homel 

“I was hugely impressed by this novel.  Marilyn Bowering tells a haunting story infused with mystery, sadness and wisdom.  Unforgettable.  Plain and simple, Visible Worlds is a delight to read.”   

Charles Foran            

 “At a time in our literary history when we tend to praise the mediocre and glorify the banal, it is profoundly refreshing to read a novel that is original, beautifully crafted and genuinely emotional.  Bowering has given us a serious and a seriously noble book.  As a reader I am grateful, as a writer I am even more so.”

Michael Coren,

Visible Worlds is full of unseen forces…  Right from the start we know we’re in for something different….  A book absolutely worth reading.  It’s all-too-human characters, fantastic settings and huge scope are as noteworthy as a comet in the sky.”

Edmonton Journal

 “In Visible Worlds, Marilyn Bowering makes darkness visible: the twists, turns, conjunctions of our lives – the coincidences that aren’t coincidences at all – and makes that darkness shine with an eerie shimmer.  A dazzling performance.”

Keith Maillard

  “FICTION TO FALL INTO:  Bowering ambitiously explores the mysteries of worlds we can and cannot see and whether people have a choice in the face of true evil.”

The Readers Showcase

“… the tale is held together and moved forward by the passion of the voices telling the story – or rather, by the desire of the story to reveal itself, to end uncertainty…  it is darkly ambitious, somewhat compulsive and immediately complex…”   

Vancouver Sun

“In Visible Worlds Marilyn Bowering stretches a net of precise and capacious language across decades, continents, history and landscapes, ten gradually tightens it until her quarry stands revealed: the conjunctions of will and chance of which human fates are made,  And always hovering are the magnetic lines of the heart – which burst forth sometimes in speech or deed, sometimes in celestial displays, always in the abiding mystery of connection.”

Jane Hirshfield

 Visible Worlds would have been a worthy contender [for the Booker shortlist 1998].  Those willing to follow where Bowering leads will find themselves enthralled….  Some of the descriptive passages, particularly of the frozen Arctic wastes, are spell-bindingly good.  Even better is the warmth of feeling Bowering brings to the characterization.  We care about these people, on their strange pilgrimages of discovery.”

Sunday Telegraph

  “…delicate….  It all links up in a whirl of northern lights and cross-generational passions.”

The Guardian

Cat’s Pilgrimage

“A thing of beauty, a rich act of the imagination that alternately dazzles, puzzles and thrills. To read it, her first novel since her Orange Prize shortlisted bestseller Visible Worlds, is to be reminded both of the sheer power of fiction, and of just how pedestrian so much of contemporary fiction has become.

When was the last time you were surprised – genuinely, deeply surprised — by a novel? It’s been a while. Cat’s Pilgrimage surprises at every turn. …[It is] a heady blending of myth, legend, folklore and genres [that] succeeds because it is simultaneously rooted in realism and the imagination, while underscored by a fundamental humanity.

In Cat’s Pilgrimage, as in the best magic realism, anything can happen and does. Nothing is off limits to Bowering’s imagination. It’s a delicate balancing act, to successfully root the fantastic in the pedestrian, and Bowering succeeds marvelously.”

Robert Wiersema, Ottawa Citizen

 “Marilyn Bowering …is a writer to watch. Cat’s Pilgrimage is an achievement [that] juxtaposes realism with magic realism in a way that challenges the norms of contemporary fiction. She contrives two disparate worlds — one mundane, the other fantastical — and slowly joins them with a seam that reveals an undercurrent of spirituality in our world. … Cat’s Pilgrimage resonates with wisdom and learning. Bowering weaves the strands of her story into a colourful tapestry that mirrors our milieu: the decline of the family unit, the senseless acts of violence, and the dreams and hopes dashed by these.”

Vancouver Sun

“[A] summary… not only oversimplifies but unfairly misrepresents the power of Bowering’s art… Bowering’s cadences soon mesmerize, the pages turning rapidly of their own accord… The weave of many life stories is rich and complex… the stories and their wrenching evocations of love and loss still resonate.”

Quill & Quire

“A writer who can unfold worlds from a single leaf…”

The Globe & Mail

“Bowering is a writer of immense muscle and elegance. She’s extremely adept at climbing inside the mind of her teen protagonist. More young adult fiction should read this honestly… Bowering… writes of violence and things repugnant as vividly as she renders beautiful landscapes and tender emotions.”

The National Post

“replete with delicate narrative layerings and poetic language”

Times Colonist (Victoria)

“Bowering’s skillful layering of contemporary life and magic realism serves to make the everyday seem all the more palpably sad … artfully drawn and … painfully human”

“A complex, beautiful and disturbing novel. Just when you think the present has learned nothing from the past, two simple, redeeming acts by the young heroine demonstrate that compassion still exists and hope is not dead.”

Audrey Thomas

“The unwary reader quickly discovers that the pilgrimage in Marilyn Bowering’s Cat’s Pilgrimage involves a descent into a horrific Inferno. Marilyn Bowering guides us down, then, just when we think we’ll never get back out, brings us to the surface again in a magical, unforgettable way.”

Eric McCormack

“Read Cat’s Pilgrimage in the dark hours between midnight and morning, when Marilyn Bowering’s powerful and original storytelling can work its intricate magic upon you. This is an extraordinary novel, deftly blending fantasy and reality … I found myself jarred in the most exciting way, for nothing turned out as I expected. A true reading adventure.”

Isabel Huggan



Green, is a beautiful book! The sensory affection of Marilyn Bowering’s words make each poem glow. The intelligence of heart, mind and body are merged throughout with emotional depth and a rare meditative sensibility. This is wise, tenderly cadenced work, exquisitely drawn and evocative. The linguistic grace of these poems simmers with the authority of love and the synaptic reach of redemption that keeps the art alive. It was a joy to read.

Don Domanski

Green in Atlantis

Monday Magazine Review of Green

Posted By: Monday Magazine Staff

Green is an appropriate title for Marilyn Bowering’s latest poetic success, as the book is lush with new exploration and growth. Through imagery and language laid bare, she voices earned wisdom with the humble touch of an ingénue. Bowering sorts through death and remembrance with an eye for moving on, while slipping in wisps of life and wit. Her poems march through the personal, political and topical with a direct confidence.

Though it’s one collection, Green is spliced neatly into sections. In “metaphysics,” Bowering digs into miracles and impossibilities with a questioning confidence. In “coats,” she toys with symbolism, exploring all the connotations of outerwear, from seasonality to identity. “Stopping by” impresses with quick shifts and outlandishly sensible assertions. Bowering has a brave-faced joviality in many of these poems, and the courage of her enthusiasm makes her repeated use of the exclamation mark remarkably unobtrusive. With lines clear and coupled, she dissects grief, nature and everything in between with an expert and steadfast hand. These are boy-scout poems, honest in everything.

In a collection so centred on the personal, Bowering’s escape from censorship is admirable. The poems have the flow of brilliant first drafts, as if no line was ever crossed out. As she explores her environment, history and beliefs, Bowering concludes much about her connection to what she has and what she’s lost. She asks herself gaping questions and gives straight answers when she has them (and unapologetic shrugs when she doesn’t). She converses with the reader like a brave acquaintance and she never buries a deep idea between too many heavy layers.

What marks Bowering as a poet in this collection is an ability to deal with all kinds of death with a mature acceptance and a young hope that keeps the dark from being dreary, and the light from looking empty.

What It Takes to Be Human


“…The material is dramatic and at times lyrical, the story rich and strange. Sandy is a kind of Everyman… his fine intelligence beaten down in the name of Christian obedience. The irony of his incarceration at a time of global bloodshed is abundantly clear… this is no ordinary thriller… and the euphoria and optimism of the ending feel like a dream. It is harder to believe than to disbelieve, Bowering seems to be saying; yet believing, against all logic, that happiness is possible is a large part of what it takes to be fully human..”

Maureen Garvie, Quill and Quire.

“What It Takes To Be Human is the story of how a young man retains his sanity in a universe that has gone completely mad. Yes, this story has been written before. We’ve seen it in Henri Charrier’s Papillon, or Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which our first-person narrator, obviously brilliant though somewhat porous, is powerless in an unjust world. …Other great novels, such as Lord of the Flies, The Island of Dr Moreau or even Heart of Darkness, in which men descend to the most animal part of being human, come to mind. … [Bowering] successfully connects the reader to the magnitude and complexity of what it meant to live during a world war [and] the absurdity, pettiness and inhumanity of the justice system is fully realized. … What it Takes to Be Human is a great novel, as worthy as the other novels mentioned in this review [Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Papillion]. All the strands Bowering dangles out there courageously, ambitiously, begin to braid themselves when the reader needs them to, and we are rewarded with a sense of wholeness. I’m not going to say I couldn’t put it down. There were times when I had to put it down, to close its cover and step away, to allow my mind to wrap around its ideas—to stand at a distance from the story of Alan Macaulay and Sandy Grey and grasp the gravity of their plight, the sheer insanity of war and the injustices perpetrated on those who lack ability to prove their innocence…. [Bowering] does not seek moments to be brilliant: those moments just arrive.”

Almeda Glenn Miller, The Globe & Mail

“Marilyn Bowering explores the relationship between innocence, injustice, and motiveless malevolence in a story that is so layered and compelling that you will be dazzled by her wisdom and huge talent. The characters will break your heart, renew your faith, and remind you what it takes to be human.”

Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille

“Once into it, I read almost without stop, fascinated with her narrator and the world he found himself in. Continuously inventive, it was also totally (frighteningly) believable. The whole novel seemed to imply that to find hell (with its monsters) we need only look to the fairly-recent past and not very far from home. One of its biggest successes for me is that this visit to a kind of hell is conducted by a generous heart that guides us from somewhere just slightly behind the visible narrator. It’s a superb novel.”

Jack Hodgins

“Who among us does not feel nowadays that we are in a madhouse, locked into an insane world in which anger, ignorance and cruelty are winning the war? But help is on the way — we have a new hero, unlikely though he may seem. Young Sandy Grey reminds us that imagination and language are the tools we need to break free and Marilyn Bowering proves it, by writing an astonishing novel through which optimism carries us forward and makes us believe that, in Sandy’s final words, You can always count on love.”

Isabel Huggan, author of The Elizabeth Stories and Belonging

“Marilyn Bowering is one of our whistle blowers.  Her new book tells us What it Means to be Human — something we seem on the brink of forgetting. Classic in form, this white knuckle book leads us through a contemporary underworld before bringing us up, once again, to the light.  Required reading!”

P.K. Page, winner of the Governor General’s Award for The Metal and the Flower

“One of Canada’s most eloquent storytellers has given us a compelling and exquisitely crafted tale about hope, love and creativity, in, of all places, a Canadian mental asylum.”

Susan Swan, author of What Casanova Told Me

“Taut and suspenseful, Bowering’s judicious use of the fantastic reminds us that this is no ordinary thriller… .  It is harder to believe than to disbelieve, Bowering seems to be saying; yet believing, against all logic, that happiness is possible is a large part of what it takes to be fully human.”

Maureen Garvie, Quill and Quire

“Sandy is a wonderfully drawn character who wins our empathy immediately and pulls us into his compelling story with ease….What It Takes To Be Human is a psychologically complex story that does justice to its provocative title…. There is a richness of language and imagery throughout, and Bowering renders Sandy’s inner state with often gut-wrenching vividness. As we read, we are implicitly challenged to think about our own idea of what it takes to be human. What Bowering seems to suggest is that at least one aspect of being fully human is an openness to words and their ability to save and to heal.”

Eva Tihanyi, The National Post

“Bowering’s novel has a mythical intensity and breadth of vision which is wholly admirable.”

Daily Mail