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Little, Big by John Crowley

Little, Big

by John Crowley (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,783772,105 (4.12)2 / 168
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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
what a bizarre and brilliant book. ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
what a bizarre and brilliant book. ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
Words to describe the overall impressions of this story (for me) are "whimsical", "languid" and "abstract". It is a sweeping tale that defies the usual straightforward story telling. It defies an awful lot of things actually so the first piece of advice is to approach any read of this book with an open mind. The story will tell its tale in it's own due time, with its own voice and meandering manner. The story is very fluid in format, flowing between characters, settings and generations. What makes this rather abstract story work so well for me is the wonderful voice Crowley has given his characters: an interconnected family of loose relations that appears to just float through life with a combined air of bafflement, acceptance and bemusement of the circumstances/powers/influences that move them and the world they inhabit towards a predestined conclusion. A world where rooms have names, like the "Gothic Bathroom", the "Invisible Bedroom" and where the house, Edgewood, is very much a character of this tale. While this is, in essence, a story about the relationship between the Drinkwater family and the fairie world, it is so much more than that. It is a perfect summertime read, preferably while lying in a flower strewn country meadow or a sun lite wooded glen, away from all the hustle and bustle of urban life. The story is timeless in quality and should be enjoyed in an equally timeless, uninterrupted environment.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by the author, which worked rather well as the author conveyed both the languid tone of the story as well as the fun bits: the real to life characterizations of manner and turns of phrase he had imbued in his characters. My only quibble with the audiobook was I wasn't expecting the rather disembodied female voice to chime in with the section titles. That was just a tad weird at first, but I got over the strangeness and began to use here voice as indicators when I could pause the story. As I mentioned above, this story needs to be approached with an open mind. There were times when I thought about abandoning the story - seriously, where exactly was this peculiar story going? - but I am thankful that I decided to stick it out. I can see why this story is considered to be "a neglected masterpiece" with the closest achievement on par being Lewis Carroll's Alice stories.

This is a story I am happy to have experienced and will be adding it to my very, very select 'future re-read" list. This is one story I know will stand the test of time, regardless of when it is read. ( )
5 vote lkernagh | Jul 20, 2014 |
I don’t know. The greatest American fantastic novel of the 20th century? And maybe one of the greatest American novels of that century, period? I’d like to think so, but my relationship to this book is so personal, I don’t really care how it ranks; I’m just so grateful to John Crowley for creating this epic wonder every time I go back to it, which I do, every few years, and the magic works on me every time. Once you get to be a grownup, you mostly lose the ability to feel that all-consuming longing to become a part of the story you’re reading, that intense, hopeless desire for the book’s world to be the world, the one you live in. Little, Big, definitely written for grownups, still does that for me.

I can love it and still quibble with it, though: too much time spent inside Auberon’s gloomy head in the middle, the prose is gorgeous but starts to wear out its prolix welcome toward the long-foreshadowed end (and yet, overall, the story arc is one of the most perfectly realized of any book I know), the “black guy,” Fred Savage (?!) is a belabored embarrassment among an otherwise deftly realized set of principles. I also used to think its portrait of fairy tale fascism come to a declining republic was too clownish, a misstep – but we’ve moved deeper into absurdist politics since then; it no longer seems so outré.

What this novel is really concerned with is Time with a capital-T, which the contemporary machine world does not permit us to experience any more than it permits magic - even the very opaque and questionable sort of magic this book contains. But in it seasons turn, four of them at a time, each with its distinctive role in growth, fruition, decline and death; lives pass from childhood to old age and death; the world itself gets older – maybe. Time has meaning, and you can feel it pass.

And along the journey of the Tale, there are all sorts of little gifts: for instance, it’s studded with Lewis Carroll Easter eggs (and there may be as many blind quoted riffs and homages to other fantasy classics, I just don’t recognize them). There are all kinds of references to mystical traditions, none of them are explained in detail or tied to their specific place in history, so you have to think for yourself. For me it also offers the very particular physical details of the time and place I grew up, the Northeastern US, second half of the 20th century. Those details may be exotic or meaningless to a later readership, or one with a different geography. But for me they’re another lovely thing that makes re-reading Little, Big like coming home, only better.
( )
1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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. ( )
3 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (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
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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!'
- Flora Thompson,
Lark Rise
For Lynda
who first knew it
with the author's love
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On a certain day in June, 19--, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited.
The things that make us happy make us wise.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:45 -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)

» see all 3 descriptions

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