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Little, Big

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  10,258 ratings  ·  1,459 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 is a ...more
Paperback, 538 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Harper Collins Publishers (first published September 1981)
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Dan'l This is a family chronicle, like Joyce Carol Oates' _Bellefleur_. It is intentionally expansive, echoing the architecture of the house, Edgewood, in i…moreThis is a family chronicle, like Joyce Carol Oates' _Bellefleur_. It is intentionally expansive, echoing the architecture of the house, Edgewood, in its intricately interwoven sprawl.

In fact, it is many stories, all tied up in the ongoing Tale. It's about people and relationships and the impossibility of sharing personal truths even - perhaps especially - with those one most loves.

The magic intrudes so oddly, and seamlessly, that the realism is able to persist undiminished. The joy of the book is in the familiar detail that allows these extraordinary characters to be instantly familiar, only growing moreso as the story unfolds.

This is not a book to read in a hurry to reach a resolution. The pleasure is in savoring each turn, each new scene unfolding as if turning an unexpected corner inside or outside Edgewood, and taking the time to let that sink in, to take one's bearings before moving on.(less)
Sheherazahde I believe the book explicitly says that he was amused at how apropo the name was. The bridge would be noisy if a gun club was meeting there.

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  10,258 ratings  ·  1,459 reviews

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Jun 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: phenomenal, read-2008
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
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
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
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
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 ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 bef
Aug 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unreadable
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
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Andrew Horton
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
Oct 14, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Kat  Hooper
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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
Dan Schwent
Jul 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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
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 r
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of John Cheever who believe in fairies
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. Al
Paul Bryant
Apr 10, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels, abandoned
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 rha
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Allison Hurd
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) (view spoiler)

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 peop
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I said it best for NPR! You must read this book: ...more
Aug 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008, fantasy
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
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
colleen the convivial curmudgeon
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
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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 gen
Eddie Watkins
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
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

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
Aug 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
It seems to me that John Crowley had both older fairy stories and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in mind while he was writing Little, Big. There is a parallel world beside (or maybe simultaneously inhabiting) Edgewood, and, like older versions of fairy stories, its inhabitants seem to be maybe indifferent or maybe hostile to humanity. Smoky spends his life like many of the men who marry into the Drinkwater/Bramble family, wondering what exactly is going on and not really getting a strai ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm not going to try and write a detailed review of this book. I wouldn't even know where to begin. Though I suppose outlining how 'epic' the story is would be a decent starting point. 'Epic' in what sense? Well, it's between 500 and 600 pages for a start, depending on which edition you have, so it's not a light undertaking (literally!). But more importantly, it's epic in the way it recounts the Tale of the Drinkwater family, across four generations, spanning the 20th century, and a seemingly en ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
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
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
I’ve had Little, Big on my reading list for sooo long, and it definitely sounded like something I could love — a house bordering on the otherworld, rich writing, a whole tangle of family and connections to the otherworld that isn’t understood by all characters, and indeed is revealed slowly to the reader as well… For a while, I was captivated, definitely. Crowley’s writing is lovely, made me almost smell the rooms of the house, the dew-damp ground outside, etc, etc.

In the end, it reminded me a l
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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

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