The novel opens with a panoramic sweep. The reader is brought face-to-face with nature in the raw: a stark landscape, dramatic, haunting and to a large extent devoid of people. We find ourselves very far from the center of civilization. Next we see a desolate bay subject to unpredictable ocean currents, and a town clinging to the seashore. Then, in the distance, looming over the scene: mountains — sheer and impenetrable — framing and closing off the vista.