The island called Le Devin is shaped somewhat like a sleeping woman. At her head is the tumbledown village of Les Salants, while the more prosperous and tourist-friendly town of La Houssinière lies at the crook of her knees. Connected by a narrow strip of land, these towns could not feel further apart, for they are separated by a legacy of rivalry and a longstanding enmity.
The townspeople of Les Salants say that if you kiss the feet of their patron saint and spit three times, something you've lost will come back to you. And so Madeleine Prasteau, who grew up on the island, returns after an absence of ten years spent in Paris. She is haunted by this place, can paint nothing else, and has never been able to feel at home anywhere but in its sandy dunes.
When she arrives, she finds that her father -- who once built the fishing boats that fueled the town's livelihood -- has become more silent than ever, withdrawing almost completely into an interior world. And his decline seems reflected in the town itself, for when the only beach in Les Salants literally washes away, the soul and energy of this humble seaside village seem to disappear with it.
Madeleine is determined to rescue Les Salants from a certain death, and she enlists many of the resistant locals with the covert aid of a charismatic outsider, Flynn. Adrift for a long time herself, almost against her will Madeleine finds herself united with the village's other lost souls in a struggle for survival and salvation.