Published in 2007 and awarded the Marguerite Audoux prize, Visits to the Living is a delicately poetic novel exploring intergenerational connections that span the twentieth century and all its tumultuous events. Born in 1965, Cathie Barreau is the author of multiple novels, short stories, articles, and poetry collections. She has founded and directed two residency workshops for writers and other creatives, Maison Gueffier and Maison Julien Gracq. In her work, Barreau often investigates the connections between scientific and literary writing, the French language and the rest of the world, and language as a whole and our humanity. Visits to the Living explores the latter in depth. She uses the novel to take herself back in time and connect with those who are no longer living, as well as to bring the living to visit her present.
In Visits to the Living Barreau is able to visit her maternal and paternal great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even her own parents in their youths. Her ghost-like presence is there with them to witness the destructive aftermath of the World War I on the citizens of her family’s village, the moment Nazi invaders parade through their forests, and other, more personal events such as the meeting of her great grandmother and great grandfather. Armed with the knowledge from her present, their future, she finds a deep sense of solidarity with the people from her past. Strongly rooted in the culture of northwestern France, primarily in Vendée, a region just south of Nantes, the novel is neither indulgent nor fantastical, despite the narrator’s apparition in times and places she could never have been. Her connections with these now-distant family members feel subtle, genuine, and based in her desire to write across the century, which shines through on each page. She writes with an understated dignity that turns the stories of ordinary men and women living in 1900's France into something closer to a form of humanized legend, both for her family and the world.