Madame Zee by Pearl Luke

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70,000 words hardcover
Finished books available


Canada: HarperCollins, May 2006
Netherlands: De Geus, Fall 2007


Pearl Luke (Photo: Derrick Lundy)
(Photo: Derrick Lundy)

Pearl Luke's first novel, Burning Ground, won the 2001 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book, and was also named a Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year. She wrote her second novel, Madame Zee, based on the true story of Brother, XII, and his mistress, Mabel Rowbotham (Madame Zee), after being inspired by a television documentary about their extraordinary lives. Pearl Luke has an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Calgary and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C. She is at work on a third novel: Not About Will.

Madame Zee

a novel by Pearl Luke


  • Longlisted for the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Madame Zee coverFrom 1929 to 1933, Mabel Rowbotham, a.k.a. Madame Zee, was the real-life mistress of the Brother, XII, Canada's most infamous cult leader and false prophet. Historical versions of the Brother's story portray Madame Zee as a foul-mouthed, cruel, and unfeeling woman, an opportunist eager to beat colonists into submission with either end of a riding crop, the sort of woman who grabs power where she finds it, regardless of the human cost.

But what if history is wrong? What if the two known incidents upon which most of her vilification depends, are just that: two isolated instances of frustration?

As a young woman growing up in Edwardian England, Mabel Rowbotham is consumed by one goal: She wants to understand and control the clairvoyant images that have set her apart since early childhood. Painful and confusing in their ambiguity, the visions, and her need to understand them, propel her through an education unusual for her time. She downplays Madame Zee - Dutch coverthem during her marriage to a corrupt banker. She embraces them in Florida, with her Spiritualist father-in-law. She explores them further with Nellie, the friend and Theosophist who encourages her name change. And ultimately, they lead her to the Brother, XII, and his failed utopian colony.

It is here, on the magical eastern shore of Vancouver Island, at Cedar-by-the-Sea, that she finally must choose between her life-long dream and the values that define her. In an emotionally driven climax, Madame Zee makes the choice that frees her.


“Luke weaves a compelling and entirely credible tale…. Her writing is precise and elegant, with a measured tone that beautifully balances the often bizarre subject matter.  — MONTREAL GAZETTE

“Luke provide[s] intriguing glimpses of the flourishing Spiritualist movement of the 1920s and '30s, which captivated the wealthy and famous alongside the titillated middle class...affording the reader a fuller understanding of what occurred at Brother XII's colony.”  — THE VANCOUVER SUN

“The sense of a place that Luke conjures, is magical.... A resting place worthy of another dark angel fallen from history into art.”  — THE CALGARY HERALD

“...a moody, sensual novel about an enigmatic and difficult woman…. A fascinating read that will leave you curious.”  — THE EDMONTON JOURNAL

“It is unfair to compare Luke's work to that of any other writer because her voice is distinct, but the details and beauty of her opening passages, her religious attention to historical accuracy, is reminiscent of Robertson Davies' World of Wonders. ... Pearl Luke has written something that explores the terra incognita of the spirit and the disturbing possibilities of a goodness that gets sidetracked.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“...a fascinating fictional biography of a very unusual woman...a stylish novel that you won't forget—at least not until someone turns Madame Zee into the movie it deserves.”  — SUN TIMES

“...Luke breathes real life, with all its contradictions, into a dark and dangerous legend, and her Madame Zee is a definite, and truly fine, must-read.”  — VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST

“A riveting, fast-moving tale, Madame Zee is ultimately a story about those who dare to be—or have no choice in being—different in our society, and the sometimes harsh consequences that follow.”  — QUILL & QUIRE

Luke's prose is epic in its musicality and lush detail.... Whatever your opinion of the historical Madame Zee...her fictional counterpart is not to be missed.”  — SASKATOON STAR-PHOENIX

Madame Zee is a fascinating story about one woman’s struggle to fulfill her gift; Pearl Luke vividly evokes both the greedy sensuality of the roaring twenties and the tortured asceticism of a West Coast commune.”  — KATHY PAGE, author of Alphabet and Island Paradise

“Exquisite.... Pearl Luke’s Madame Zee takes flight and races toward its fearful ends: the consequences of too much knowing.”  — FRED STENSON, Giller Prize nominee for The Trade

“Pearl Luke's Madame Zee is a fascinating fictional biography of a deeply unusual woman. Behind Zee's intelligence lies Luke's own. She offers us a character who, while falling for the seductions of a cult leader, retains the clarity to observe his manipulations—an adroit and perceptive rendering.”  — CATHERINE BUSH, author of The Rules of Engagement and Claire's Head

“Pearl Luke’s deep compassion for our human frailties is unmistakable as she explores the dangers inherent in following passion into belief. The novel is erotic, darkly funny, lusciously detailed, and very often challenging. I couldn’t put it down.”  — GAIL ANDERSON-DARGATZ, author of The Cure for Death by Lightning



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