This slim novel, set mostly in the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon off Newfoundland’s south coast, tells the story of a collection of decades-old photographs taken by a doctor who came to the islands in the early 1900s and used his camera to record the life of the community he saw around him. The photographs are discovered by Francois, a middle-aged architect who now lives in France but returns to his St. Pierre homeland for frequent visits, and Emilie, the teenaged daughter of Francois’s childhood friends. Francois and Emilie feel a strong affinity both for each other and for the photographs, and dedicate themselves to curating the collection, sharing it with others, and finding out more about the mysterious Doctor Thomas. Pieces of his story are imagined by Emilie, who aspires to be a writer, as a sort of novel-within-the-novel.
The material is interesting and the glimpse into St. Pierre culture intriguing — like many Newfoundlanders I know far too little about these islands, which still belong to France, despite how close they are to our shores. But the novel is so short that many potentially interesting elements of character development — especially the nature of the tie that binds Emilie and Francois — are left only as hasty sketches rather than fleshed out in vivid colour, and there is very little in the way of a strong plot to pull the reader forward. This was definitely one of those books that left me wanting much more.