The twelve stories in this collection range over centuries and across the world. There are stories about those who are lonely, estranged or out of time. There are hauntings, acts of cruelty and neglect, but also of penance. Some stories concern themselves with the present, and the mundane circumstances in which people find themselves: a woman who feels stuck in her life imagines herself in different jobs - as a lighthouse keeper in Wales, or as a guard against polar bears in a research station in the Arctic. Some stories concern themselves with the past: a sixteenth-century alchemist and doctor, whose arrogance blinds him to people's dissatisfaction with their lives until he experiences it himself. Finally, in the title story, a sailor gives his account - violent, occasionally funny and certainly tragic - of the decline of the Great Auk.