Little, Big
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Little, Big

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  5,417 ratings  ·  854 reviews

John Crowley's masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood - not found on any map - to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It

Paperback, 562 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Harper Collins Publishers (first published 1981)
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27th out of 652 books — 3,250 voters
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Community Reviews

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I've given a lot of thought to this review: how to begin, how to describe this story, how to explain my utter adoration for it, and most importantly, what words I might use to successfully make everyone read this book right now.

As you can probably imagine, I've come up rather short on all counts.

How do you talk about a book which seems to either redefine or cause to shrivel all the normal descriptors one attaches to works of fiction?

I mean, strictly speaking, you'd have to call this an epic fa...more
mark monday
sometimes, when dreaming, i am aware of a complex and mysterious history to the at times strange but often mundane narrative of the dream itsef. i'll be running away from something, against some dark background, a house or castle or a school, who knows... although the drama of running is clear, there's often a feeling that so many things have already happened before i started running, things of which i'm only dimly aware, a whole story has happened or is happening in which i'm only getting bits...more
This book astounded me. Not in a good way. I expected to like "Little, Big" quite a bit from what I'd heard about it. But, like the Drinkwater house, it looks smaller on the outside than it feels from inside. Not in a good way. I mean the book feels like it's a thousand pages.

Some people like it, as you can tell by other reviews: the language is often quite clever, it ends on a semi-strong note, and it plays with myth in some interesting ways. These are all good things.

Bad things? Well, the cha...more
Little, Big is the greatest book I have ever read. It is living magic in text form, and it has a truly transformative effect on the reader. I understand that it meanders a bit in the middle section and goes off on a strange-ish quasi-political tangent toward the end, but everything is purposeful and comes together to achieve a singular effect - literally every single sentence is essential and purposeful to the grand narrative. When I finished it, I immediately felt like re-reading it to catch ev...more
Kat  Hooper
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

"Don't be sad. It's all so much larger than you think."

Smoky Barnable lives in the City and thinks of himself as anonymous. His father is dead and his step-siblings have forgotten him. He has no friends at all until he meets George Mouse who introduces him to his strange family. Smoky falls in love with one of George's cousins, Daily Alice Drinkwater, and he moves upcountry to the Drinkwater estate called Edgewood. At his wedding he meets the Drinkwater fa...more
Jul 27, 2012 Bobby rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Fans of John Cheever who believe in fairies
One distinction Crowley's Little,Big has from other Fantasy novels is that it's various magical fauna seem so seamlessly integrated into the fictional fabric. So often it seems, with SF/Fantasy novels, the narrative is just a flimsy bit of gauze whose purpose is only to prop up it's various fantastic creatures or concepts. Reading "Little,Big" you find every last detail infused with magic, wonder and mystery. When you encounter a talking stork, you think "Of course, why wouldn't the stork talk?"...more
I tried to read this but just couldn't slog my way through it.

The jacket copy sounded really intriguing, but I didn't get halfway through it. The biggest problem I had with this book was that I felt tried far too hard to be Airy and Phantasmagorical and Mystically Vague and forgot that a plot was actually necessary. It wanders and doesn't actually get anywhere, the prose was overstuffed, and not a single character actually caught my attention. I was disappointed, beause it was a very interestin...more
There is no way one could ever adequately describe “Little, Big” by John Crowley. It is an epic of minute proportions. Its 500+ pages skip back and forth through several generations and between the “real” world and the fairy world. The reason I put the word “real” in quotes is because the real world of “Little, Big” bears no more resemblance to our world. While this novel has a lot of characters, they are more like sketches than sculptures. You never get a sense of any solidness to them. They fl...more
This is one of those books that is hard to talk about. Maybe best to describe by analogy.

So imagine a tangled ball of wool with which you are following a strand as it winds its way in around the other strands, in and out of the tangle until eventually you find the other end of the thread, somewhere not too far from where you started.

The narrative flows a bit like that. It nips back and forwards in time, hops from one character to another, spanning several generations of a sprawling family as we...more
A slow-burner, this one. Not in the traditional sense of a story with a gradual build-up and overflowing end. The events within what little plot there is are evenly spread out. Rather, as this tale languidly unfolds, its wonders seep deeper and deeper into the reader’s subconscious well.

The dreamlike and otherworldly logic that saturates nearly every passage in Little, Big often lulled me into a pleasant hypnagocic stupor. Normally when sleep creeps up on me while reading I end up later having t...more
Apr 23, 2012 Mosca rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: patient readers
The most readily evident characteristic of this book is the beautiful, almost musical prose that weaves throughout the telling of this “Tale”. The world created is seductive and at times dreamlike. The characters are so well introduced and sustained that you feel that they are good friends, even as you know their weaknesses.

For these reasons only, this book is worth the effort. But other reasons also abound.

Please, read this bo...more
Michael Alexander
I really didn't think I was going to give this one five stars, not even 400 pages in. I respected its craft, definitely. I was calling Crowley "maniacally subtle" to try to explain the inching, sometimes painfully slow unfolding of dramatic motion--and the sense that this whole book was an elaborate blind for a very clear and simple storyline hidden underneath. Crowley as much as tells you so in one of his many little metafictional asides about the Tale. But even as I latched onto fascinating mo...more
Dan Schwent
Little, Big is the story fo a family that lives in a house called Edgewood, far to the north of The City. It follows the family from generation to generation. Let's just say fairies play a part in the lives of the Drinkwaters and their relatives.

The only book I can compare it to at the moment is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but that's more of a subject matter thing. The writing is very rich and detailed. While I was reading it, I thought it would be the best book I read that year. Whatever...more
I read the last 20 or so pages of this late at night, half-asleep which puts your mind in the same state as the characters (characters getting lost in the woods, forgetting who they are, talking to animals - more in line with the fuzzy dreaming brain). Everything in the book was leading up to those last few pages. The Tale! When will it end!? What will happen to justify all these whispered anticipations for it?

After seeing reviews of the book on here, I picked it up with great anticipation. Mag...more
Sep 13, 2007 Julian rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Smart folk who like fantasy and a bit of prose
I appreciate the entertainment merits of fantasy/science fiction, but after years of Dungeons and Dragons and reading the literature spawned from that (which seemed to always borrow from Lord of the Rings), I grew tired of the genre and more or less walked away from it (and Dungeons & Dragons - but that's another story). As a wedding gift a friend passed on a copy of Little Big. And I fell in love. Mr. Crowley's prose is beautiful, original and haunting. It captures the "magic" of the world...more
Jun 25, 2008 Jude rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: whoever finds there way in
Recommended to Jude by: the cover. by Yvonne Gilbert
This is the cover - with the redhaired girl and the bubbles and the boy and the trout - of the book i picked up and put back and got to the door of the store with friends waiting and turned back and went back and bought.
And from then on the world was as it would not otherwise have been.

This is a tender and endless world of a story, a comfort and a wonder.
And i don't feel gooey about this, or wistful about everybody reading it.
It is not so much perfect as simply perfect for you or not at all.

Bart Everson
Jun 06, 2013 Bart Everson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fans of fantastic literature, but also (and especially) people who think they don't like fantasy
Recommended to Bart by: the Urth list
Shelves: re-read, aloud, octavia-sf
I first read this book when I was traveling. I picked it up in Helsinki in 2001 and continued reading it as I traveled through London and Scotland. Odd, considering it's an American fairy tale. Yes, that's right, it's a modern American fairy tale. Fairies always seem very Old World to me. I'm impressed — dazzled — that Crowley was able to pull this off so convincingly.

This story is so big and rambling that I won't even try to describe it. But I do have a few observations.

This is a serious adult...more
LB is lush, beautiful, and strange. It is one of those books, also, that sent me scurrying for other sources to help make sense of what I am reading. The language is poetic, but not dense. The characters are memorable, but like the book, a little removed and distant. I found myself reading this book from a distance, as opposed to feeling involved and part of the story. Which again is also apt, because the book is ultimately about a Tale and one lone family whose responsibility it is to spin it b...more
Have read this a few years back.! Just a re- read! :)

Whew!! This is my first re- read of this book. and I'd say I have missed a lot on my first read! Which is strange coz I usually pay attention to details, but for some reason something slipped! Tsk tsk!

Anyway, if you have not read this yet, you miss half, no scratch that! You won't really miss anything. Except perhaps that you would not be able to enjoy THAT REALLY GOOD book in the fantasy genre.

The language,the prose, the tensi...more
Whenever critics describe a book as "ambitious," I'm always wary. Ambitious is sometimes just another word for "really, really long," and a good portion of the really, really long books I've read could have done the job better in fewer pages. John Crowley's Little, Big is called "the best fantasy written by an American" by one critic, but the A-word by another. Is it too long? Maybe just a bit, but the places where it dragged suffered from an unsympathetic character more than an unnecessary prol...more
Ok, some Crowley I love and some Crowley...not so much. Unfortunately this one, the book that most consider his masterpiece, falls into the latter category for me. As always Crowley's mastery of prose is readily apparent, but you know what? This is a pretty dull book. Granted the kind of long, ambling family history that Crowley is writing here is rarely full of slap-bang action, but the pace here is often glacial and while there are, as always, sparkling moments studded throughout the book I ju...more
Awarded two stars for now, because, although I made it through the whole book, I found it a really slow read.

But I think maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for that type of book when I read it. I find images and ideas from the book coming to me months later - it's obviously made an impression. So it's scheduled for a re-read, and re-evaluation.
Nov 20, 2013 Hannah marked it as did-not-finish
This is one of those books I so wanted to love and adore; one of those surprise "finds" that none of my current GR friends had read/reviewed. The reviews on this made me salivate - I was so excited...

I couldn't even get past page five.

I fail as a reader of magical realism.


Jason Mills
Nov 01, 2009 Jason Mills rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: everyone
Five stars are not enough. This is an intricate, moving, funny, warm, wondrous, delicate filigree of a novel.

It's a family saga over the course of a century, set largely in a house and estate in upstate New York called Edgewood. This rambling home is indeed on the edge - it seems to intersect with the land of faery, though there is nothing twee about these fairy-folk. Characters drift uncertainly between one world and the other. Deals are made, enormous yet murky plans move forward.

Our principle...more
c.o.lleen ± (... never stop fighting) ±
I had pretty decent hopes for this book, and maybe that's lent itself, a bit, to the air of disappointment I was left with... but let's start at the beginning.

The prose style is lyrical and others have described it as 'dream-like' - something with which I can agree. At first I had a hard time getting into it, but once I sort of settled into the style I rather enjoyed it as it set up the story of the Bramble-Drinkwaters ('cause, really, even though the cover say it's Smoky's tale it's not, really...more
This is the third time I've read this book. Why keep reading a book that I've only (begrudgingly) given two stars too? Because every time I've finished it I did so loathing it, but as time passed I always forgot why I loathed it and became slightly convinced that it was me, and not the book, that I hadn't read it carefully enough, or thought about it properly, that there was some thing that could easily be removed that once I figured it out would leave me honestly loving a book I'd only felt lik...more
I'm someone who always finishes a book, but this one was impossible. Could the author have made the female characters more apathetic, more passive, more dull, more flat and stereotypical? One is completely fine that her husband cheats on her with her own sister. The sister sleeps through her almost-rape by a cousin. They never leave the house, never do anything. And the men are no better - you've got the brother who has sex with a 14 year old (and anyone else who'll have him until he kills himse...more
Mar 29, 2008 Robert rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for:
we don't live in a newtonian universe. for me this book is about the vast web of connections formed across space & through time with family and friends. the definition of 'family' becomes less certain and fades away into the distance as relationships are uncovered and more people start to fit into the family category as well as the friend category. we are all one huge family, and that family includes the stones and the trouts and the mouses and the flowers, not just the barnables and drinkwa...more
Eddie Watkins
This book is like life to me. A dangerous statement, but true! It has the feel of all the moments of my life as it unfolds. It has all the wisdom and subtle instruction by example that is necessary for a rich and various life. It limns many of the other layers of life that are left out of "realist" fiction, and so it's been called fantasy, and until recently that is the section where you would always find this book. But this is reality fiction, and it's hard for me to imagine a person whose actu...more
May 18, 2010 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
This is the first book I read in 2010 and will possibly be my favorite book of the year. I used to read fantasy as a child, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Story of the Amulet by E Nesbit. I also liked The Borrowers by Mary Norton. By about fifth grade I got into Nancy Drew and that was the end of fantasy for me.

Then in early 2000, I read the first Harry Potter book and re-discovered magic. The Lord of the Rings movies came in 2002 and I finally read the trilogy, liking it just fine...more
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sgb book review: "little, big" by john crowley 2 15 Mar 15, 2014 07:11PM  
SciFi and Fantasy...: Little, Big - First Impressions *No Spoilers* 37 227 Jul 01, 2013 10:32PM  
Little, BIg 9 134 Sep 12, 2012 09:55AM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

John Crowley was born in Presque Isle, Maine, in 1942; his father was then an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He grew up in Vermont, northeastern Kentucky and (for the longest stretch) Indiana, where he went to high school and college. He moved to New York City after colle...more
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