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Little, Big by John Crowley

Little, Big

by John Crowley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,180861,759 (4.09)2 / 205
  1. 40
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    isabelx: Otherworldly extended families.
  3. 30
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke (kethorn23)
    kethorn23: The fairies in both these books operate behind the scenes, which preserves the sense of magic. The fairies in Little, Big are elusive even while they play a major role in the story. Likewise, in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the fairies are responsible for major parts of the story that affect the humans who are unaware of their existence.… (more)
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  5. 20
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  6. 20
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    britchey: Both books follow one family for several generations, chronicling the incredible events that comprise their destinies.
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    Marissa_Doyle: Winter's Tale is perhaps a little more muscular, but they both share a certain dreamy whimsicality that never descends into cuteness.
  9. 21
    The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: A lively history exposing the tradition of theory behind the magic of Ariel Hawksquill.
  10. 32
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    britchey: Multi-generational epics about family, history, and destiny. Both books beautiful blend the ordinary with the fantastic.
  11. 54
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  12. 33
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (ktbarnes)
  13. 33
    Among Others by Jo Walton (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Similar style and approach to the world of faerie
  14. 11
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  15. 11
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    fduwald: Hier ist der Ursprung von Edgewood.
  19. 13
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  20. 15
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    rarm: Fairy tale worlds that reveal a hidden darkness.

(see all 20 recommendations)


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Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
I'd started reading without any idea what it was about (usually I read synopses or GoodReads reviews before committing to reading a certain book). The fact that it was 800 pages? I figured if it was absorbing then it was worth diving in. The beginning (A Journey. A Quest. but of course!) was easy enough to follow, and soon the Victorian magic part reminded me of Jonathan Norrell and Mr. Strange, with Mrs. Underhill et al. illustrated by Charles Vess. Then it was like I suddenly took a misstep and ended up in a world that was confusing and constantly shifting around me. Part house of mirrors, part fairyland/wonderland, I trudged on, the book teasing me, like if I'd just read a little further on then understanding would be just around the corner. Then just when I think I've gotten a foothold, it shifts again.

Parts I liked: the story about the Meadow Mouse and Brother North-wind (Winter's secret), the story of August and the fairy bargain, the story of the female stork, the changeling, some parts about Ariel Hawsquill. And maybe the nods to Alice in Wonderland, and Midsummer Night's Dream. I guess I like the parts with actual straightforward enchantment or fantasy going on, versus the family going through their angst side. Although, I did love the portrayals of the relationships between family members: the sisterhood of Alice and Sophie, the love of Violet Bramble and John Drinkwater, the strained father-son relationship of Smoky and Auberon. Those parts are so sad and true and human.

I wanted to love this more, but maybe it's a strain of fantasy I'm not quite used to, yet. Or maybe I have to think about it more, mull over it a bit, before it hits me how brilliant this is, and eveything clicks. I'm guessing everyone who rated this with 4 stars or more got that feeling, and I feel a little jealous. Maybe it's a meta-book(???), and the confusion I felt is like how Smoky Barnable felt (or even the older Auberon), living in a house with all the Drinkwaters and always feeling left out on their ancestral secret. He just doesn't have the eye, or the Frida eyebrow, or that extra sense or something. They see/feel the magic, and Smoky (and I, the unperceptive reader) can't. Like, what the heck, so what happened to the grand Faery War?

Still, an enjoyable, though rather long Tale, at least the parts that I understood.

By the way I'm an amateur Tarot card reader/collector, and several times in the book all I could think of was that I'd like to get my hands on a Little, Big inspired Tarot deck. :) ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
A book that has been on my shelf for years, reading it with the Beyond Reality group
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
I read this book YEARS ago. It was part of a trilogy that included Engine Summer and something else that I can't remember. I do remember that Little Big was magical. A story about a family who are normal in every way except that they have fairies living with them in their house, and there is interaction between them. I should really go back and re-read it. In the mean time, however, I picked up a newer book of his called The Translator at a yard sale and I'm interested to see what it's all about. Then, while checking some Amazon recommendation, I stumbled upon his 5-book series about Aegypt. If Little Big is anything to go on it could be wonderful. I'm going to look for some reviews to see what other people thought. ( )
1 vote Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Little, Big mirrors a soap opera: two American families, linking back to a third family in Britain, are followed over 2-3 generations. Locus of action is a country manse and a city tenement. Key to the myriad social relations is an underlying relationship with the Faery, elusively described but quite definitive in its broad integration with the families. Not only the reader but also family members are confused about the influence and indeed the very existence of the Faery, and this ambiguity suffuses the entirety of plot and setting.

This premise, anchored both in ambiguity and (seemingly at random moments) in crystalline but fleeting scenes, provides a diorama in which Crowley builds up a richly detailed world. Turning the last page, the strongest impression is of these layers of detail. It's not that the story is empty, in fact there's a satisfying resolution to the mystery of his labyrinthine plot. And yet, events all seem secondary to the cross-references, literary allusions, and echoes which events leave scattered throughout the text.


If there is an underlying oneness of all things, it does not matter where we begin, whether with stars, or laws of supply and demand, or frogs, or Napoleon Bonaparte. One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.
-- attributed to Charles Fort, Lo! (1931)

The plot is not driven along in the way of a crime story, nor does any sharp conflict define the action. The novel instead reveals interwoven threads, leitmotifs and recurrent images, layers and connections like frost spreading on a pane.

Crowley uses two leitmotifs: Somehow (capitalised) is a recurrent marker, sometimes in narrative description but also in a character's inner dialogue, hinting at something beyond random events. Characters also repeatedly refer to the Tale (again capitalised), hinting at a destiny governing family events, linking family with Faery. They don't fully understand this Tale themselves, it is a secret from one another as much as from the reader.

Throughout the story, Crowley references Shakespeare and Carroll, specifically in how the human world encounters the Faery world. It is not merely the novel's ending which evokes A Midsummer Night's Dream but the borrowing of Wood & the City and the namesake for Ariel (The Tempest). And though there are a few droll references to Alice in Wonderland, the stronger allusion is to Carroll's Sylvie & Bruno, with its dual plots in Real World and in Faery. (The Faery Parliament perhaps a reference to Robert Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faeries.)

In the novel, characters frequently access the Faery world through non-rational techniques. They are methodically described and followed, but not fully understood -- reminiscent of absurdism. The Tarot is a familiar device; a more inventive role is given to architecture. Both the country manse and its grounds are clearly linked to the Faery, though rationally designed and built, and also through the Memory Palace. (Crowley's concept that practitioners of memory arts can learn new things from the juxtaposition of memories forced through their architectural touchpoints is new to me and quite possibly an innovation of his own.)

So how is it this is so? What makes possible these myriad connections and layers? Crowley relies on careful repetition and a circular story structure, then patiently juxtaposes seemingly unconnected characters and events through suggestive prose and coincidence. I think Crowley in part is being mimetic. After all, the world works this way, too. Meaning and significance come from finding connections, and they are there to be found. With his choice to foreground the Faery, and yet retain their elusive nature, Crowley appears to suggest people typically do not notice a great many of the connections surrounding them, perhaps even that some of these are more significant than others. That we should attend to these, open ourselves to their possibilities. ( )
4 vote elenchus | Feb 11, 2017 |
Brilliant. I've only read one Crowley novel before this, Aegypt, and while I enjoyed that, I found it never quite caught me, it required a slowing down and immersion that I wasn't able to do at that time. So when I picked this up I made the decision to take my time and savour it. It was worth it. This has to be a contender for one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read, as well as the best book I've read this year (although it faces stiff competition from some of the shorter (non-genre) stuff I read earlier this year...).
It is, as another reviewer mentions, a family saga. But they're an odd family, with secrets they don't even know they're keeping. The whole thing flows like an enormous river, sweeping you along in its deceptively swift current. There is an air of melancholy to the whole affair, something I noticed in Aegypt but which works better (for me...) here, that lends a poignancy that never oversteps the line into sentimentality.
In short: read it, you won't be disappointed. I'm going to go and read everything else by Crowley. ( )
2 vote deeronthecurve | Jan 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Crowley, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Canty, TomCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carr, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, John AnsterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, YvonneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lippincott, Gary A.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malczynski, ElizabethCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A little later, remembering man's earthly origin, 'dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return,' they liked to fancy themselves bubbles of earth. When alone in the fields, with no one to see them, they would hop, skip and jump, touching the ground as lightly as possible and crying 'We are the bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth!'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061120057, Paperback)

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 Drinkawater, 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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 Drinkawater, 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.… (more)

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