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Little, Big

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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 is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.

538 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1981

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About the author

John Crowley

135 books731 followers
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 college to make movies, and did find work in documentary films, an occupation he still pursues. He published his first novel (The Deep) in 1975, and his 15th volume of fiction (Endless Things) in 2007. Since 1993 he has taught creative writing at Yale University. In 1992 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
His first published novels were science fiction: The Deep (1975) and Beasts (1976). Engine Summer (1979) was nominated for the 1980 American Book Award; it appears in David Pringle’s 100 Best Science Fiction Novels.
In 1981 came Little, Big, which Ursula Le Guin described as a book that “all by itself calls for a redefinition of fantasy.”
In 1980 Crowley embarked on an ambitious four-volume novel, Ægypt, comprising The Solitudes (originally published as Ægypt), Love & Sleep, Dæmonomania, and Endless Things, published in May 2007. This series and Little, Big were cited when Crowley received the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature.
He is also the recipient of an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. His recent novels are The Translator, recipient of the Premio Flaianno (Italy), and Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, which contains an entire imaginary novel by the poet. A novella, The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines, appeared in 2002. A museum-quality 25th anniversary edition of Little, Big, featuring the art of Peter Milton and a critical introduction by Harold Bloom, is in preparation.

Note: The John Crowley who wrote Sans épines, la rose: Tony Blair, un modèle pour l'Europe? is a different author with the same name. (website)

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Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,301 followers
January 27, 2010
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 fantasy, I suppose. Wait! You didn't let me finish. Because that's not it, not really. I mean, it's not really just epic, because it actually seems to encompass the whole damn world, to cover all of time, kind of. And it's more of an occult novel than a fantasy novel, if anything, I guess. I mean, it's a real story, set in real-life New York, partly upstate and partly in our big bad city. It just sort of so happens that, well, everyone in the story is part of the Tale, which only some of them can understand, an no one can predict, not really. See, now wait again! Because now you'll think it's some big silly meta thing, which it is not not not.

Look. Little, Big is a novel about a family. For real this time. It's about Smoky Barnable, our earnest, humble, erstwhile sometimes-hero. Smoky meets and falls in love with one of the most beautiful characters I have ever had the pleasure of traveling five-hundred-odd pages with, Daily Alice. Daily Alice lives in Edgewood, which is in upstate New York, and the book opens with Smoky making the trek upstate for his wedding. He has been given a series of inexplicable instructions (walk don't ride, wear clothing borrowed not bought, etc.), which he is doing his best to follow, though he doesn't understand why he must.

He must because it is part of the Tale. He has been promised to Daily Alice, kind of, maybe, or well, someone has been promised to her anyway, and she hopes it's him, but she has already decided that she will have him anyway, she loves him that much, even if he is not the one promised.

This is a taste of the world you step into in Little, Big, which goes on to follow Smoky and Alice and their families and their neighbors and their children and some of those children's children too, for four generations, backwards and forwards. It may well be a fantasy, but it is done with such a light touch, with such subtle mentions of fairies and talking fish and worlds within worlds, that you could easily miss or dismiss them, you could write them off as the magic-belief of children, or the ramblings of old women who have spent too long abed.

And I haven't even told you this yet, as this review draws longer and appallingly longer: John Crowley could have spent all five hundred pages just describing a single tree, and I would have followed him along every goddamn branch. Which is to say, this book is suffused, constantly and shockingly, with some of the most astonishingly beautiful prose I have ever read – equally as stunning when describing twilight falling over the City or the endless quest for love.

Here are some other wonderful things about this book:

* In the City, the true oracles are the bums who lurk on the subway in broken shoes muttering to themselves.
* At one point a maybe-fake, maybe-evil baby (who eats live coals) is blown up.
* The only tie to the world of 'them' – the creatures who may or may not know how the Tale will come out – is a deck of pseudo-Tarot cards, the reading of which takes at least an entire lifetime to begin to understand.
* Included are some of the most powerful, most potent descriptions of taking hallucinogenic drugs that I have ever read (and that's not even what's happening in the story).
* Did I mention the dialogue? It is so good, so true, so utterly believable.
* This book made me – a sworn cynic, a jaded literary snob, a snarky bitch who doesn't even know what 'sentiment' means any longer – cry, several times.
* Everyone in the book is named for nature: Violet Bramble, John Drinkwater, Marge Juniper, Mrs. Underhill, George Mouse, Lilac, the Rooks, the Dales, and on and on.

And now look. Because I know that I have done a woefully inadequate job of making you see, I am going to here transcribe a long-ish passage from the book. This takes place very early on, when Smoky and Daily Alice are still just falling in love. She is telling him about a time when she was walking in the woods just after a storm and saw a rainbow off in the distance.

"It was a rainbow, but bright, and it looked like it came down just – there, you know, not far; I could see the grass, all sparkling and stained every color there. The sky had got big, you know, the way it does when it clears at last after a long rainy time, and everything looked near; the place the rainbow came down was near; and I wanted more than anything to go and stand in it – and look up – and be covered with colors."
Smoky laughed. "That's hard," he said.
She laughed too, dipping her head and raising the back of her hand to her mouth in a way that already seemed heartstirringly familiar to him. "It sure is," she said. "It seemed to take forever."
"You mean you – "
"Every time you thought you were coming close, it would be just as far off, in a different place; and if you came to that place, it would be in the place you came from; and my throat was sore with running, and not getting any closer. But you know what you do then – "
"Walk away from it," he said, surprised at his own voice but Somehow sure this was the answer.
"Sure. That isn't as easy as it sounds, but – "
"No, I don't suppose." He had stopped laughing.
" – but if you do it right – "
"No, wait," he said.
" – just right, then . . . "
"They don't really come down, now," Smoky said. "They don't, not really."
"They don't here," she said. "Now listen, I followed my dog Spark; I let him choose, because he didn't care, and I did. It took just one step, and turn around, and guess what."
"I can't guess. You were covered in colors."
"No. It's not like that. Outside, you see colors inside it; so, inside it – "
"You see colors outside it."
"Yes. The whole world colored, as though it were made of candy – no, like it was made of a rainbow. A whole colored world as soft as light all around as far as you can see. You want to run and explore it. But you don't dare take a step, because it might be the wrong step – so you only look, and look. And you think: Here I am at last." She had fallen into thought. "At last," she said again softly.

See? See? They're just ordinary people, to whom (maybe? maybe not?) extraordinary events are always happening.

Well anyway there you are. If I can't convert you, and Mr. Crowley himself can't convert you, then you are just unconvertable and I'm done trying. But if you are even the tiniest bit intrigued by my very long, rambling, adulatory speech here, please, I beseech you, go get this amazing, astonishing, riveting, spectacular book. It really will blow your mind. It did mine.
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews763 followers
May 19, 2011
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 characters aren't compelling, the clever language is often stilted and ponderously slow, and almost nothing happens. On top of that, the fantastical aspects of this book were never surprising or especially interesting.

When it comes to the characters, we run through four generations in about 600 pages. This gives us slightly more than a hundred pages per generation to get to know the characters, and Crowley clearly needs more pages than that to make them interesting. Only in the last of the four generations did I like any of them (Auberon and Sylvie). Before that, the motives of the characters were sketchy at best, and it didn't feel like any of the characters were DOING anything; they were waiting for something to happen. As a reader, I was doing the same thing.

Okay, here's the plot. A man marries into a family that lives in a gigantic, mysterious house in Edgewood. For generations, this family has been interacting in various strange ways with the Faerie folk that live in the forest around them. The family is part of a great Story, and they don't know quite what this story is going to be. Some members of the family come into direct contact with the fae, while others yearn to see them and are never able to. A few live lives of tragedy as a result of this proximity with the mythic side of reality, while others live semi-normal lives.

Being part of a grand Story? Having a Destiny? These are meaningless designations unless it ends up BEING a grand story. Or unless it feels like a destiny is reached. You can't entertain me by assuring me these people are Living Some Grand Story, when I can see clearly that Nothing is Happening. They're all hanging out at a house in the woods, going through the process of forgetting about their connection to the faerie realm because they believe this is the only safe thing for the family.

Then, finally on page 450 or so, it looks like there's GONNA be a plot. The kind of plot where stuff is going to happen. But don't worry: it's a false alarm. Things DO happen, but they're safely off-screen and vague. Then the end pops up predictably and....well, bleck. How else could it have ended? I mean, did anyone NOT know it would end this way? And is the ending crafted in a way that's especially insightful?

Let me be honest about something, though: I don't like generation-spanning fiction. Pick the generation that is interesting and focus in, don't give me 400 pages of background about the people who won't be involved in whatever climax you've cooked up. If someone isn't even alive during your story's climax, then why do you think it's a good idea to tell me about them?

But if these characters had come to life for me, I would've probably still enjoyed the book. Unfortunately, at all of the most dramatic moments of the story, characters did things that seemed to come out of the blue. Why did this married guy and this woman suddenly have an affair? No idea. Why did his wife react the way she did? No idea.

I was supposed to be intrigued by all of this I suppose, but it felt flat to me because of my lack of interest in the characters. Crowley reimagines myth in a way that is often vivid but never surprising, and that's unfortunately the strongest part of this book.

In sum, I don't recommend it.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,103 followers
February 15, 2016
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 & pieces or what feels like the end. i guess it's what makes some dreams so hard to explain - simple or inexplicable events occurring that have an emotional depth and meaning that is near impossible to describe in passionless terms.

other times, passing by my work's drop-in center, i'll exchange words with a visitor, a person usually dealing with life changes or the possibility of life ending (that's the nature of my workplace). they'll say some simple pleasantry or even give a brief phrase to show how they're doing... and there's a whole world in what they say, an entire journey expressed, nearly intangible emotions conveyed. but of the details of that history, the why and how of it, and the place they seek or the place they fear to go... inexpressible.

that's what reading Little, Big was like for me. so many little moments in a family's life, in the lives of people connected to that family, in the city in where the family lives. and all these moments live in a world with a background and a future that is vast, mystical, dreamlike, one that cannot be expressed with any kind of logical or linear description. sometimes the moments are so personal and delicate... other times they are whimsical and brimming with magic, or strange and full of some kind of barely understandable threat... sad moments, and tragic ones, and moments filled with delight... and in the end, they become grand and they sweep the characters and the reader towards what almost feels like an understanding of the purpose and destination of it all. almost!

the novel is about an enchanted family, their loves & lives & history. it is also about the end of an age, the beginning of another, witches & changelings & fairies & enchantments, loneliness & forgetfulness & sorrow, love, the past and the future, and new york city. there are no real villains, there are no traditional heroes. the writing has a dense but fragile beauty. there are layers upon layers. there are mythical beings that come alive and realistic characters that become as myths. i sighed in amazement, many times, at the wonder of it all; it is like a dream made half-real. it is a unique book.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,495 reviews962 followers
June 13, 2021
The story of a house all lit, the house of four floors, seven chimneys, three hundred and sixty-five stairs, fifty-two doors, traveled far; they were all travelers then. It met another story, a story about a world elsewhere, and a family whose names many knew, whose house had been large and populous with griefs and happinesses that had once seemed endless, but had ended, or had stopped; and to those many who still dreamed of that family as often as of their own, the two stories seemed one. The house could be found.

Within the pages of this 'little' book lies a whole universe. It is 'big' in concept and masterful in execution, although the journey tends to be meandering and confusing at times, given the Moebius strip timeline and the allegorical nature of the characters. I haven't read all of John Crowley's novels, but this one feels like his magnum opus, his most ambitious project – where he tries to encompass all of human nature within the mythical power of storytelling.

Daily Alice couldn't tell if she felt huge or small. She wondered whether her head were so big as to be able to contain all this starry universe, or whether the universe were so little that it would fit within the compass of her human head.

In order to encompass both the big picture of a world where technology drives mythical creatures into oblivion and the inner life of sensitive souls looking for a purpose in life, Crowley builds a house that exists in multiple realities at once and brings into it a weird family that seems attuned to the lost music of Faerieland. Think Lord Dunsany meets Neil Gaiman by way of Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream", but this is an oversimplification of this unique, disturbing yet beautiful journey.

Houses made of houses within houses made of time

The cast of characters in the novel is huge, and the story follows them over several generations, jumping backward and forward in time to catch them at the crossroads of their spiritual journey. For me, though, who enjoyed greatly the sprawling Lyonesse Saga by Jack Vance, the broken storytelling and the richness of the personal details were a bonus and not a distraction.

You see, it is a Tale. Only it's longer and stranger than we can imagine. Longer and stranger than we can imagine.

Crowley shares with Vance also an interest in a lyrical, often melancholic prose. The Edgewood house and its inhabitants (I'm being deliberately vague about actual names and plot developments) give me same end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it sense of loss that I got from "Tales from a Dying Earth". Of course, it is not all gloomy and despondent – there is humour, and beauty, and most of all the pursuit of love and happiness, often achieved by retreating from the outside world within the multidimensional halls of the Edgewood mansion, where you never know for sure where you will get once you open a door.

It is another world entirely, and it is enclosed within this one; it is in a sense a universal retreating mirror image of this one, with a peculiar geography I can only describe as 'infundibular'. I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until, at the center point, it is infinite. Or at least very large.

In order to cross the border between reality and the land of the faeries, one needs to follow his or her dreams, dreams that more often than not turn into nightmares. For every touch of romance and passion there is an echo of suffering or at least of malevolent pranks played by alien creatures from a different dimension. But there is also a hint of predestination, of an overarching plan that uses the family as pawns in a bigger game of dominance between our world and Faerieland. A game that can turn deadly and even lead to all out war against the encroaching technological advances that has driven the magical creatures farther and farther away from the gardens of our 'real' world.

She had always lived her best life in dreams. She knew no greater pleasure than the moment of passage into the other place, when her limbs grew warm and heavy and the sparkling darkness behind her lids became ordered and doors opened; when conscious thought grew owl's wings and talons and became other than conscious.

The novel starts with a portrait of youth and passionate love, of a wild wedding party and new beginnings for Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater, but very soon a darker note is introduced when they first meet the faeries. To understand this crossroad in their path together, Crowley takes us back into the past of the house of the Drinkwater family, and forward in time to follow their offspring as they struggle to make sense of the game these alien creatures are playing. A pack of cards that can apparently predict the future play a major role in foreshadowing coming events.

Far down the hall, Sophie dreamed that there was a tiny door in her elbow, open a crack, through which the wind blew, blowing on her heart.

The more I delved into the family history, the less clear things become, until I actually stopped trying to analyze the plot rationally and left it to unfold in its allegorical form. The theme is not really the conflict between Earth and Faerieland (although such a war come to pass), but birth, and family, love and growing old, reality and dream, the universe and the way we can project it on the canvas of our imagination.

I wish you shelter from the storm
A fireplace, to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall
I wish you love.

No matter what kind of adversity the characters go through, the thread that guides them through the labyrinth, especially when they are away from Edgewood, is family and the shelter they provide. Some questions may be too painful to be answered, some loss unavoidable, but as long as the house stands, the gate to a bigger universe can still be found. Like Peter Pan, all you are required to do is to believe in its existence.

In winter, summer is a myth. A report, a rumor. Not to be believed in. Get it? Love is a myth. So is summer.

Because ... eventually ... summer will be here and once again Oberon and Titania, Puck and Hermia, and all their retinue will meet again and dance the night away in a hidden glade.

I probably missed a lot of references to classical and modern myths from the text, since many side characters seem allegorical, but that only makes me more interested in re-reading this gem of a story sometime in the future. It may not be the easiest of journeys, but for me it is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. And I did read a lot of them.

The Things that Make us Happy
Make us Wise.


as a side note, every chapter has a poem as an introduction, reinforcing my impression that there is little accidental or gratuitous in the plot, that there are numerous hidden Easter Eggs for those better read than me. My favorite is from the Persian poet, Attar of Nishapur, a fragment from his own allegorical journey called "The Parliament of the Birds":

But how could you have expected
to travel that path in thought alone;
how expect to measure the moon by
the fish? No, my neighbors, never think
that path is a short one; you must
have lion's hearts to go by that way,
it is not short and its seas are deep;
you will walk it long in wonder,
sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
May 3, 2018
This will be an easy review for a glorious book of Fae, story, and four generations of an interesting family.

To say it's lyrical misses the point of the theme, that the deeper you look, the bigger it gets. It's true for this novel as it is true for any one of us. A surface glance might get you caught in a fae's trap, such as a kingfisher for a gas station, but when you get caught in the web of love, children, changelings, careers, more love, story, story, and more story, whole vistas open up before us.

And then there are the doors to the fae. We may be kings of a kingdom on the tips of our fingers or be lost in our imaginations... larger than worlds and worlds, never to wake again. Or we can forever hunt for the door to that imagination made real or we could be lost in fever dreams and lose the very idea of love and family.

Either way, we are all megalomaniacs and the meekest of the meek. The magic is real and the most difficult doors can't be crossed and other doors are larger than whole forests and we'll never see them.

And then, of course, there's the fun plot surrounding a deck of special Tarot cards, sleeping emperors, the takeover of America, and talking animals. :)

Honestly, it's hard not to see the deliberate passing of this particular torch to some of my favorite authors. Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell comes to mind. Both are extremely rich and deep and expertly crafted tales of the fae. And let's not forget Valente's Fairyland series which deliberately picks up the flavor and even some of the naming conventions and outright themes from this book!

None are lessened by this comparison. Indeed, they all compliment each other. I'm in love.

I admit to avoiding this book. It was on my radar for 30 years, and yet I just thought it wasn't for me.

How wrong I was! It was absolutely gorgeous!
11 reviews19 followers
April 4, 2013
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 himself), the adulterer husband, the cousin who likes to have sex with sleeping women, and the other brother who likes to take pictures of his naked little sisters when they're children. Really? And to top it off, there's no plot to speak of.

I'll give Crowley credit for his beautiful writing style, setting details, and ability to create the vivid and fully-realized world these characters inhabit. But character building doesn't seem to be his strong suit. Or plot building either because by the time I read to page 260-something, there was still nothing to pull the reader along except for the style of writing. For me, that's not enough.

Normally, I wouldn't even bother writing a review because I hate to potentially influence people's opinion of a book (as if I have that kind of ability!), but man, I couldn't not say something about how unreadable I thought this book was.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,226 reviews2,054 followers
December 21, 2014
What a terrible shame. I was so set to love this book. The blurb was good, magical realism is one of my favourite things, the book cover is so pretty, I was so sure I was in for a five star read. And for about 100 pages everything went well. Then I realised that despite the beautiful writing style there was nothing for me to like. The story was thin, the characters barely existed , much of the writing became incomprehensible. I didn't give up and trudged on to the bitter end. And I still do not understand any of it. This is definitely a book you either love or hate. I did not love it.
Profile Image for Andrew Horton.
150 reviews12 followers
May 28, 2007
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 everything that I might have missed. It's one of the saddest books I've ever read and is simultaneously one of the most uplifting. Reading this book feels like falling in love.
Profile Image for Miss_otis.
78 reviews9 followers
February 9, 2017
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 interesting premise, but the author just didn't pull it off, IMO.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,133 followers
November 25, 2021
Updated review:

If you follow me on Instagram (its ok if you don’t: it’s just pics of what I read with a beverage next to it, and pictures of my cat being weird), you will have seen my copy of “Little, Big” next to a mug of bright blue tea – blue magic matcha from David’s Tea. This book is a lot like that tea. Unexpected, whimsical, and while I don’t love it, I keep making some because I keep feeling that I will eventually love it. It’s not a bad book, by any stretch of the imagination, and I enjoyed it more this time around, but I think it will never be a book that I just love.

What I do love is the images Crowley conjured up, like the labyrinthine house of Edgewood, its mysterious orrery, George Mouse's strange building in the City, the mirror journeys of Smoky and Auberon, Aunt Cloud's deck of cards, an upstate New York landscape that is more dream than reality...

This book is rewarding, but it's hard work. It's also worth a second glance, when you have a better idea of what you are in for and can keep all the convoluted events a little straighter. I bumped it up by one star.

Original review:

My boyfriend husband lent me this one after I raved about “Shadow of the Wind” at him like a lunatic. After reading “Little, Big”, I can see why he would think I would enjoy it. Crowley’s prose is beautiful, and creates a dream-like world to explore; it felt very much like walking into a Brian Froud illustration. Familiar and yet inexplicably alien. I enjoy epics that follow families around for generation, detailing the delicate web that holds the great family tapestry together. I also love Tarot cards and magical realism, so obviously this should have been a win.

BUT. The writing required an indecent amount of focus. It was really beautiful, but I often had to stop, re-read the last paragraph or two to make sure I was keeping track of everything that was going on. Not unlike Victorian fairy photography, if you blink too long or don’t pay attention to what you see at the corner of your eye, you will miss something and end up confused. That is not always a bad thing: the fact that you can’t precisely date this story is wonderful: turn of the century, 1960’s… I have no idea when this book is supposed to take place and that’s awesome! But I couldn’t read it before going to bed because if I got just a little bit sleepy and skipped words, I started missing stuff and getting frustrated.

This is really my main problem with “Little, Big”. I wanted to get lost in that alternate world Crowley created, and I had to work so hard on making sure I understood what was going on that I never really felt like I could escape in the pages. I liked the idea of a family following the prophecy they have been told to accomplish and seeing how their lives follow the paths laid out for them, sometimes in very unexpected ways. The characters were a bit under-developed, but I feel like that might have been appropriate: after all, they are all just waiting for something to happen and don’t spend much time trying to be their own selves. That being said, Smoky broke my heart. He seriously did: I wanted to beat him to a pulp.

Maybe I need to read this one again. Maybe I need to explore Crowley’s other works, as this was a very nice book, that just felt a little too impenetrable to be fully enjoyed.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,583 reviews398 followers
January 6, 2012
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 family -- a clan of eccentric characters who live in or near a huge pentagram-shaped house that Smoky is still getting lost in decades after he moves in (it's bigger inside than outside). More strangely, the Drinkwaters also have some sort of "religion" that Smoky never quite understands until the end of the story when he realizes that maybe he was not as anonymous as he thought he was. Or maybe he was... And perhaps it's not really the end of the story, but the beginning instead. Or maybe it really is the end...

During the course of the story, we jump backward and forward in time and meet past and future Drinkwaters, such as John Drinkwater who built the house as a model of five different architectural styles; his wife Violet Bramble who could see fairies; her illegitimate son Auberon who took up photography so he could capture the beings he thought he saw in his peripheral vision; Daily Alice's sister Sophie, who spends much of her life asleep; Sophie's illegitimate daughter Lilac who is stolen by the fairies and replaced with a changeling; George Mouse who uses hallucinogenic drugs and doesn't really care if his bed partners happen to be relatives.

Most of the family's stories are told in the past tense, after they've happened. Thus, there's not much action or excitement in Little, Big -- there's little exploration of the house or woods or any interaction with the fairies. It's a slowly meandering family history, somewhat like a soap opera. It's full of "little" intimate details and doesn't open up so that we can see the "big" picture until the very end.

Most of the characters are passive; some (mainly the women) believe they are in a fairy tale and are waiting to see how it ends. Those who don't believe spend their time wondering what they're not being told, or thinking that the rest of the family is crazy. Nobody talks much about the family's relationship with faerie because nobody really knows. Is the family being protected? Are the fairies benevolent or malevolent? This aspect of an elusive, plotting, behind-the-scenes race of magical beings reminded me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Little, Big has a dreamy, often bleak, fatalistic feel. When bad things happen, such as disappearances, adultery, incest, teenage pregnancy and illegitimate birth, the family says "oh, dear," forgives each other, and considers it all part of the Story, as if nobody is in control of their own actions. Many readers are sure to be enchanted with the wistfulness, but I did not feel as forgiving toward some of the characters as their family members did, and at one point I got so angry and disillusioned with Smoky that I wanted to give up on him. Not only was I mad at the characters who behaved badly, but I was mad at the rest of them for being so passively philosophical about it all.

What kept me reading this long meandering often depressing story was the magnificence of John Crowley's prose, which was beautifully read by the author himself in Blackstone Audio's recent production. Truly, I know few authors who compare and I often found myself sighing with delight at a metaphor or turn of phrase:

"While the moon smoothly shifted the shadows from one side of Edgewood to the other, Daily Alice dreamed that she stood in a flower-starred field where on a hill there grew an oak tree and a thorn in deep embrace, their branches intertwined like fingers. Far down the hall, Sophie dreamed that there was a tiny door in her elbow, open a crack, through which the wind blew, blowing on her heart. Dr. Drinkwater dreamed he sat before his typewriter and wrote this: "There is an aged, aged insect who lives in a hole in the ground. One June he puts on his summer straw, and takes his pipe and his staff and his lamp in half his hands, and follows the worm and the root to the stair that leads up to the door into blue summer." This seemed immensely significant to him, but when he awoke he wouldn't be able to remember a word of it, try as he might. Mother beside him dreamed her husband wasn't in his study at all, but with her in the kitchen, where she drew tin cookie-sheets endlessly out of the oven; the baked things on them were brown and round, and when he asked her what they were, she said 'Years.'"

The audio production of Little, Big was superb and my only complaint is that there is no accompanying family tree like there is in the print version of the book. Fortunately, I was able to find this with the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon.

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament was nominated for all the major awards in 1982 and won the World Fantasy Award. Indeed, it's a remarkable achievement and is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. Little, Big will not appeal to all readers, and I'm not sure I'll read Little, Big again, but I will always remember it with awe. Fans of Catherynne M. Valente, Neil Gaiman, and Patricia McKillip will be totally charmed by John Crowley's writing style and should put Little, Big on the top of their TBR stacks right now.
Profile Image for Gabi.
694 reviews120 followers
April 28, 2020
This. Is. A. Masterpiece! A prose as eloquent and beautiful as I seldomly have encountered.

I have thought about what to write here, but I must confess that my English just isn't good enough to do this book justice. I've read several other reviews and I just want to point you to the 5-star-reviews that come up at the top of the review-list. Those readers managed to wonderfully put into words what I was feeling.

I also saw that there are quite some 1- and 2-star reviews and I can understand those readers as well.

"Little, Big" is very, very slow and I think this is a book one has to feel. If you don't feel it, it is a long dragging waste of time. If you feel it, it is magical. A novel-length poem, a dream - or an acid-trip.

I was seldom so enchanted by a book with this length that I read every word. Usually somewhere around the middle part (or sooner), I start to scan a bit, skim a bit, jump paragraphs a bit. But not here. I had the feeling every word was important. Every sentence was phrased exactly how it had to be. Plus, I never wanted to know what happens next - I always wanted to know what happens now.

One of the best (if not THE best) Fantasy books I have ever read.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,929 reviews10.6k followers
October 17, 2008
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 year that was. I felt like it all fell apart at the end.

I'll have to re-read it again once the pile gets down to a manageable level.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,477 followers
June 24, 2014
One thing is for sure, if Little,Big is ever filmed, Quentin Tarantino won’t be directing it. From what I could tell this book is the daytime TV version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and that was itself the janeaustinized version of Dracula with a few knobs on. I did get through all 2,599 pages of that epic of narcolepsy, so when I figured how Little, Big was going to pan out, when I could keep my eyes open long enough, I said to myself hey, Mr Once Bitten, stop this nonsense now!

For a rhapsodic appreciation of this faery frolick see Mark Monday’s review


and for a disembowelment by one who courageously made it to the end, see Michael’s review


I'm probably not John Crowley's target audience. If I see any of them faery folk round here, I squish em.
Profile Image for Fuchsia  Groan.
162 reviews196 followers
June 12, 2018
Qué complicado hacer una reseña de esta novela. “Un libro que requiere por sí solo una redefinición de lo fantástico” según Ursula K. Le Guin.
La palabra fascinante se queda corta para describirla.

Pequeño, grande, o El parlamento de las hadas.

Pequeño es, quizás, la saga familiar de los Bebeagua, una historia de amor algo revuelta, la historia de Fumo Barnable, un personaje anodino que llega de la ciudad para vivir en Bosquedelinde, esa maravilla arquitectónica que proyectó el bisabuelo de Llana Alice, su prometida, y allí encuentra lo Grande (o quizás es al revés, quién sabe): la Magia, en el sentido más amplio de la palabra, un mundo de Hadas que Crowley evoca de manera delicada, de forma velada, que vamos descubriendo poco a poco, mudos de asombro.

Grande, Magia, es esta obra: Literatura con mayúsculas: la historia, la prosa de Crowley, elegante y detallada (con una traducción excelente de Matilde Horne), sus evocadoras descripciones que nos acercan a ese mundo oculto, en el límite entre el mundo de los sueños y el de la vigilia, lo real y lo fantástico.

El Doctor Zarzales, de una manera quizás algo rebuscada, lo explica de maravilla: La explicación consiste en que el mundo habitado por estos seres no es el mundo que nosotros habitamos. Es un mundo totalmente distinto, y está contenido dentro de éste; es en un sentido una imagen universal de éste reflejada detrás del espejo, con una geografía peculiar que sólo puedo describir como infundibular. —Hizo una pausa, como para reforzar el efecto de sus palabras.— Con ello quiero decir que el otro mundo está compuesto por una serie de anillos concéntricos, anillos que, a medida que se penetra más profundamente en ese otro mundo, se van ensanchando. Cuanto más nos internamos, más grande es. Cada perímetro de esta sucesión de círculos concéntricos contiene dentro de él un mundo más vasto, hasta que, en el punto céntrico, es infinito. O al menos muy grande.—Bebió agua otra vez. Como siempre que intentaba explicarla, la idea misma empezaba a rehuirlo, a mermar gota a gota; la claridad perfecta, la perfecta y casi inasible paradoja que a veces resonaba como una campana dentro de él, era tan difícil… tal vez, oh Señor, imposible de expresar. Frente a él las caras esperaban, impávidas.—Nosotros los hombres, vean ustedes, habitamos en lo que es en realidad el círculo más vasto y más exterior del infundíbulo invertido que llamamos el otro mundo.
Profile Image for Marley.
129 reviews109 followers
November 15, 2012
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 moments with particular characters, and some fantastically crafted sentences, I had a looming fear that all this buildup wasn't going to pay off--much like this book sometimes suggests about life.

But when the elaborate clockwork of this book finally, finally, FINALLY starts to hum to life (more literally than you suspect!) the payoff is pretty miraculous. I'm still buzzing with the end of this book.

That isn't to say it's a slam-bang, kapow fireworks ending (fireworks figure in a far more bizarre way earlier on, actually...). Crowley goes for the wide grin at a life pregnant with possibilities rather than the "wowee!" and derring-do of what "The Princess Bride" might call "the good parts." But this is a book that spends much of its 538 pages subtly telling you why you should like it and what it's doing, and FINALLY showing you that everything you have been looking for has been there the whole time. I have a particular love of works where a single setting or situation is utterly transfigured by a new context, and I have to say this one absolutely GLOWS with it by the end.

A bit like another very good book I've read recently, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this is a book about the passing strange, the deeply disordinary, and the incredibly sneaky incursions it makes on the world. And like that book, it has a sense of how, as someone once put it about politics, "everything eventually turns into the way things are." There's an inertia to the fantastic, a sense that getting out of the ordinary is HARD and elusive and maybe more trouble than it's worth and maybe makes your whole LIFE more trouble than it's worth, but it's still hanging out just past the edge of your vision, beckoning.
Profile Image for Bob.
38 reviews18 followers
February 20, 2017
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?".

A lot of the Gnostic and Hermetic concepts that Crowley explores in the Aegypt tetraology are also here in some form. They're given a less complete treatment, but nonetheless permeate the novel, including the "Art of Memory" as practiced by Giordano Bruno in Aegypt, and by Ariel Hawskquill and Auberon Drinkwater here. Also similar to Aegypt is the use of a hidden archontic war which is waged in the background by unknown supernatural forces. Humans are only pawns, sometimes agents in this war; never privy to the complete picture,or the true nature of their purpose in the larger scheme.

The Drinkwaters, the family which the novel revolves around, refer to this larger story which they are just a part of as "The Tale". Crowley has a love of the self-referential. I thought it most cleverly on display in his novella "Indian Summer", but it is no less well done here.

The Drinkwaters have some knowledge of The Tale, partly because of a genetic trait - a gene predisposing the clan to magical affinities, perhaps - within the family that allows them to talk to fairies, animals and for some of them to augur the future through a singular Tarot card deck. But their "chosen" status also seems to be due to their location - their house, "Edgewood" seems to be built at the edges of a magical forest, The Wild Wood, which appears to be a door of sorts to another world. The house, Edgewood, is described as "infundibular" - seeming to grow larger the further inside you go - which echoes the novel's ontology as expounded by Violet's Father and theosophist Theodore Bramble, which to summarize and very roughly paraphrase: their world is just the outer layer of a series of worlds which can be thought of as concentric, each one containing a smaller door to the next world (the Edgewood house itself being a door of sorts), until finally the door to the center world, the infinite world of Faerie, is so small it cannot be found. The narrative of Little,Big also seems infundibular - the deeper into the story you get, the more its world is revealed to you.

Another Gnostic echo from the Aegypt series is the story of Sophia - which resonates with the characters of both Rose Ryder and Samantha Rasmussen in the Aegypt books and then with Sylvie and the (always sleeping and dreaming) Sophie in Little, Big. I'm sure there are tons more and I could go on endlessly - this book is rich with detail and suffused with so many ideas it could be pondered for a lifetime, it seems to me.

It moves slowly, meditatively exploring the lives and thoughts of various members of the Drinkwater clan through several generations (non-chronologically, too - the book includes a family tree, thankfully). Despite it's somnolent pacing I found it endlessly fascinating, and ends beautifully if sadly too, in what I can only think to call a Shakespearean reverie (the similarity of Auberon's given name to the Oberon of A Midsummer's Night Dream is no accident, and a comparison halfway through the book of Silvie to Titania is an early foreshadowing of their destinies).
Profile Image for tim.
66 reviews62 followers
April 16, 2010
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 to reread the pages that fell between the cracks. Not so with this book. Nothing I read in it with a heavy drowsiness fell through the cracks because through the cracks is where this book comes from.

Emanating from its core, a slippery, pervasive vagueness ripples evenly outward in all directions. This lack of concrete mechanics was often frustrating, especially when by midway nothing seemed like it would ever be explained. But by the end, this ever-present vagueness reveals itself to be the essential function of the book’s magic. It is the hidden key lodged in the heart of this long, meandering tale, unlocking its mysteries, without revealing its secrets.
Profile Image for Alex.
98 reviews3 followers
August 18, 2009
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 like I should love.

As it turns out the above sentiments were totally delusional. I am never going to like this book. Ever. Why? Because while I think someone can make a case that in structure (maybe.... honestly I thought this book suffered from "Oh shit I'm running out of pages, better wrap this sucker up!") and language and theme this may actually be a very good book, the characters who inhabit it, in their inhumanity (and maybe that's because they're fey touched or maybe it's because Crowley paints them all as weird ideal types that you'd never actually want to be or be around) and solitude (no one in this book ever touches or knows another person. They're all terribly terribly alone. They might become obsessed, but there's always a million walls between people, even in "love" (which emotion is never believable, except, maybe at first, with Auberon and Sylvie)), slowly drove me to a state of such dislike that around book four I realized that I hated them and within book six I couldn't even try to read carefully and just sprinted for the (stupid) ending.

Two random points:
1) I felt that it was sort of gross that all of the non-white characters are painted as being sort of feral and homeless, or being these fierce sexual creatures (read: primitive), or in most every case servants. Just all these dumb stereotypes.
2) Man I am fucking tired of literary incest. What's the point? What's it supposed to say? Am I supposed to be shocked? Is it supposed to rattle my uber-bourgeoisie cage and get me to, like, really think about the conventional mores that entrap my small mind? Ugh.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books701 followers
May 7, 2020
A beautiful, meandering story of a family caught in a fairy tale whether they'd wish to be or not.

CONTENT WARNINGS: (just a list of topics)

Things to love:

-The world. Dreamlike and magical. Wonderful juxtapositions of gritty cities and wild forests. The house is such a cool feature.

-The concept. What does it mean to have a destiny? What is life really like for people caught up in a fairy tale?

-The magic. There were so many cool/unsettling elements. I loved the cards, Sophie's sleep, Doc, the eyebrow...all of it was just so whimsical.

-The gentleness. Hard to say if it's just that the narrator was the author who has a very calm, soothing voice, or the tone of the story, but there's no rush, no sense of urgency. It's just softly telling you a story that spans lifetimes.

Things that kept it from being perfect for me:

-The plot? I'm not sure if this was the plot, but the thread that eventually ties the story off started late and got lost several times in the weeds. Some of those weeds likely should have just been removed to make it a stronger, twistier tale.

-No tension. This is more a character study than a novel. Things just sort of happen, and while you're watching them, something else bigger is happening elsewhere and you're just left to fill in the pieces, which makes it hard to feel the action, when you're that far removed from it.

-Weird relationships. I didn't find these authentic. It helped make everyone feel a bit removed from humanity, which worked for the story, but also made it harder to hold onto.

-Abrupt ending. I think he's another author who doesn't quite know how to end things. It was a pretty ending but sudden and confusing.

And yet with all that, I still did enjoy it. It was an interesting experience, and complemented my gardening beautifully. I'd save this one for days you want charm and whimsy.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews286 followers
August 25, 2016
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, imo).

The story of Violet and the first Drinkwater, and then Daily Alice and Smoky, and their children and extended family, all touched in some strange way by the fae, and the crazy House, half-real and half-imagined, all a part of the Tale, as we're told over and over, and I went along for the ride as we go back and forth in time and place and character, parts feeling in some antiquated past and parts in some ill-defined future.

But a large part of the problem, for me, is that I never really connected with the characters. Perhaps it's because of the generational spanning story and the constant backing and forthing, but I never really 'got' most of the characters - and those ones that I did like spending time with the most, like Smoky and Alice, we sort of abandon for a huge chunk of the meandering middle-portion. (And, oh gods, but how it did meander.)

And because I didn't connect with them I couldn't quite care all that much about some of the dramas. I couldn't grok why, for instance, when

And some parts were just squicky. I mean, I sort of turned a blind-eye when

And yet none of these things are treated with anything except a sort of off-handed acceptance.

And maybe that's one thing that bothered me about the characters - their passivity. Because they're part of the Tale they sort of just accept things as happening for a reason, and aren't very proactive. And even Auberon, in his attempt to be proactive, ends up being pretty passive and then just .

So there's that. And then there's the glimpses of plot-line we get that I never really felt like I got a full grasp on. I mean, what was the deal with Eigenblick, or whatever, in the end?

Going back to the meandering middle part - we spent pages and chapters and aeons with Auberon and Sylvie in the City, when most of the stuff I was most interested in - concerning Ariel on one end and Smoky on the other - seemed mentioned and sort of glossed over.

Like Ariel's first trip to the House. And what in the hell happened between Auberon's going home the first time and then being back in the City?

I just kept feeling like certain parts were belabored beyond all reckoning and the parts I wanted to know more about were just skipped.

And I don't know how I feel about the ending. On one hand it's kind of bitter-sweet and fitting for the story, but, on the other hand, I couldn't help but feeling "That's it? But what about this other thing over here, and that thing over there, and... and... what?"

I don't know. It's a book I sort of feel bad for not liking more. It had it's moments and it had a certain haunting beauty, but it also had, like, 250 too many pages. Maybe it's one of those stories that a discussion (since I read it for a group read) will change my perspective on. Maybe I just need more time and distance... but, often, I end up disliking things more after time and distance, not less.

But, then, I suppose all things are possible... so who knows?
Profile Image for Sandi.
510 reviews278 followers
September 19, 2008
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 float through their lives, controlled by powers they don’t understand. The entire book has a dream-like quality to it, and dreams are indeed an important part of the story. There is a passage in Book 6, Chapter I that pretty much sums up the whole book. It’s part of young Auberon’s mental process as he’s working on scripts for a popular soap opera.

“Why hadn’t anyone before caught the secret of it? A simple plot was required, a single enterprise which concerned all the characters deeply, and which had a grand sweet simple single resolution: a resolution, however, that would never be reached. Always approached, keeping hopes high, making disappointments bitter, shaping lives and loves by its inexorable slow progress toward the present: but never, never reached.”

“Little, Big” isn’t exactly the kind of book you can read in one sitting or a few. It needs to be nibbled at, not devoured. Fortunately, the format is very conducive to reading small bits at a time. I have to confess that I found myself sneaking peeks at what was happening ahead. Since the book meanders back and forth through time, reading ahead really made no difference whatsoever. It actually helped quite a lot to read the ending about halfway through the book because the events made much more sense in context of the ending. Because this book meanders and because it really doesn’t have much of a plot, I don’t even know if you could consider knowing the ending as really spoiling it. (Don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending.)

The one thing that really struck me about “Little, Big” is that I really had no concept of where I was in time while reading this book. It seemed like both the city and the country were frozen in time and the only way to determine the “when” was by observing which characters were around and/or picking up on subtle clues, like a Model T or a Buick station wagon with wood trim.
Profile Image for Simon.
561 reviews228 followers
August 23, 2011
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 gradually find out about their tale, the purpose to which the seemingly random and insignificant events, both happy and tragic, turn out to be all part of some grand plan for the future.

An ambitious and often confusing work that requires the reader to take the hints and fill in the gaps in order to make more sense of the story. The lazy, meandering narrative requires a strong prose style to carry it off, to engage the reader whilst the tension slackens and, for the most part, Crowley is up to the job. But only just; he's not quite one of the prose greats in who's writing you can lose yourself no matter what the subject matter.

At times I found it slightly hard work, could only read short sections in one sitting, which is why it took me so long to finish. But my respect for the novel grew as it became apparent what the author was trying to do and how cleverly the themes recurred throughout the story as well as in the narrative structure itself. If you read this, in the right frame of mind, with patience and are willing to submerge yourself in Crowley's world, you will likely enjoy this book very much.
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,973 reviews1,177 followers
January 23, 2015
4.5 stars, it's a highly imaginative book, even though it might be a bit difficult to get into. Still I admire the author for respecting readers' intelligence. He didn't tell you who is supposed to be who, what is supposed to be what straight away as if he thinks we readers are all idiots who have to be told 1+1=2 other than figuring things out on our own.

Update: 11/04/2014:

It's still a highly imaginative novel about faeries and the mysterious Drinkwater Family, of Edgewood. Generation after generation, the fate of the Drinkwater Family (some of the family members can travel to the faeries land, some can communicate with them, some can see them but some can't) is entangled with the faeries race. It's a family saga which is capable of holding its readers spellbound.

The novel is not flawless: for many readers, the book may appear to be too uneventful, I also noticed the ending is too subtle and rushed. And to many readers, who are used to the Fantasy Adventure genre (e.g. Harry Potter) and are expecting to see a magical war between humans and faeries, they will definitely be disappointed.

Yes, war and conflicts are mentioned in the book, so does magic and supernatural power. But how the battles are won (or lost) is nothing like you might imagine; and the magic works in an elegant, subtle and unusual way.

It's a story not unlike One Hundred Years of Solitude, just not as dramatic. It's delightful to see a novel about faeries and magic carrying itself with so much airy grace and charm. I will definitely recommend you to read this book.
Profile Image for Pavle.
415 reviews142 followers
September 10, 2017
"The further in you go, the bigger it gets."

Citat iz knjige: o knjizi, o porodici Drinkvoter, o vilama i raznim svetovima u svetovima, veći u manjem, o životu.

Nešto kao Markesovih Sto godina samoće, obrnuto u ogledalu. Ako je Markes pisao o porodici u običnom svetu sa notom magijskog, Krouli piše o porodici u magijskom svetu sa notom običnog. Ipak, nije ovo tradicionalna fantastika, nego nešto izmedju. Potpuno jedinstvena, zaslepljujuća knjiga, zahtevna, jedna koja uvlači u sebe (jer što dalje ideš, to više i vidiš) svojom inteligencijom i ambicijom i emocijom. Krouli je napisao remek delo i ja to nisam shvatao sve dok, potpuno nasumično, nisam stekao uvid u širu sliku, kada sam se toliko navikao na roman da se on "samopreveo", odnosno da su se reči romana prevele na jezik sveta koje one i opisuju. Stvarno, stvarno, stvarno neverovatno dobro i svaka preporuka, svima.

Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,146 followers
August 11, 2011
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 just kept waiting for _something to happen_! I plan to re-read this, hopefully sometime soon, to see if time has changed my opinion of _Little, Big_ since it's been quite a few years since I read it, but I have to admit that given the size of the tome, and the number of other books on my to-read list, I sometimes cringe at the thought.
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,451 followers
October 8, 2014
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 actual life being lived would not be enriched by reading this book.

There's a great blurb by Harold Bloom on the back cover of one edition which says something to the effect that it's as if this book has always existed, as if it wasn't even written but has always been. Indeed.
Profile Image for Mosca.
86 reviews12 followers
April 24, 2012
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 book slowly. This work feels Romantic, in the artistic sense. And the pace that may feel somnambulent to some, felt, to me, to be like a Chopin piano etude—a slow relaxing homage to the existence of the moment. Patient attention is required; but it is also rewarded. The reader's attention to the miracles of the moment sets the stage for the lifting of the veil.

To say anything else about this book is more difficult for me. You may find blurbs concerning its plot and context by reading Goodreads book pages and the book backs. I do not want to further pigeon-hole this plot than it already has been because I feel that genre is usually irrelevant in quality literature.

What I feel is important is the “Tale” that is repeatedly referenced in this work. I'll try to explain:

This book assumes the existence of another traditional world (Faerie), perhaps another half to our single world.

Because I live in the rural Southwestern US, I have at least a superficial understanding of the “other” worlds intimately alive to the living native cultures and peoples of my adopted home. The traditional animate, “magical” characteristics of the mountains, rivers, clouds, bears, trees, and all of creation is an accepted truth for many of my friends. My own long life has led me to similar experiences. This is not Fantasy. This is a global traditional worldview, shared by many traditional peoples on many continents today. In this book, the traditional European world of Faerie seems to best express that worldview.

Back to the “Tale”. Many central characters in this book refer to a “Tale” that is being lived in common with the beings from the “other” world. This “Tale” may be a collaboration between beings “here” and beings “there” . Or this “Tale” may be a wholly manufactured process from the world of Faerie. Whatever is true, this “Tale” is central to the experience of this book.

This “Tale” is also central to my own confusion. In Little, Big there is an apparent frisson between this world and the world of Faerie. The resolution of that frisson seems central to this “Tale” as well as to this book.

However, as the book draws towards conclusion, there are many pieces connected; but many enigmas left as they are. Many resolutions reached; but many plot twists left untied. Herein lie my confusions. What are the conclusions? What now is known?

But these inexpressible uncertainties (for me anyway) may well be the intended experience.

Whatever is true, Little,Big is a masterful, complex, and lovingly beautiful work. I may reread it.
Profile Image for Amanja.
531 reviews53 followers
January 23, 2020
This is the spoiler free review for Little, Big by John Crowley. If you would like to read the very long and somewhat confusing synopsis and spoiler full review please visit https://amanjareads.com/2020/01/23/li...

I'm calling Little, Big an American fantasy novel simply because it needs it's own genre. It's closest to fantasy but it's not hard fantasy with magic wands or full shapeshifters. It's more like magical realism but the magic isn't accidental or incidental.

It's fantasy set in the early 1900s in anywhere middle America. It delves into the dichotomy of the little town verses the big city but does not linger there. The setting is largely symbolic and purposefully non-specific.

So is any use of magic, protections, curses, changelings, fairies, interdimensional travel, or any other strange fantasy-esque doings. Little, Big makes its own rules and runs its own genre defying plots wherever it pleases.

The book follows the entire history of the Drinkwater family starting with Smoky and Daily Alice but going to her previous ancestor Violet as well as her offspring Auberon and the last generation before the end of what they refer to as The Tale.

We see how the family started with a woman named Violet who can access the magic that the world has to offer but few others can use. We see how the family ends under the guidance of a long lost child who mysteriously vanished shortly after her birth.

Characters have complex histories with each other and the story bounces back and forth along a timeline with very little notice or pretense. Simply put, this story is complicated.

I enjoyed trying to decipher the layers of symbolism even if I sometimes fell short of fully understanding what Crowley was going for. At times it is clear that this book was written during a different era than my own.

The novel feels like the kind of book I would have read back in school around the same time we were reading all of the other great white male authors of early Americana. I would love to see Little, Big on a curriculum alongside Faulker, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. He would fit right in and Little, Big is far more interesting than many of the other classics that are traditionally taught. I mean, this one has people who can talk to animals!

Little, Big cries out for discussion. It needs to be dissected to be understood. It is not a surface level book and I believe that many readers will have many different interpretations of the events that unfold. If you've read it please tell me yours!
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