When an automobile starts chugging down a road in Portugal, 1904, you settle down happily to read. This must be one of those historical novels people are always writing these days. Fifteenth century England, fourteenth century Italy, Burma in the Second World War, France during the first. Get yourself a setting and you have yourself a story.
But this is Yann Martel, and the external is incidental. The High Mountains of Portugal is, instead, a novel that cannot believe its own profundity.