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Little, Big by John Crowley
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Little, Big (edition 2002)

by John Crowley

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3,144831,783 (4.09)2 / 204
Member:martitia
Title:Little, Big
Authors:John Crowley
Info:Harper Perennial (2002), Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:fantasy, fairies, strong sense of place, architecture, Midsummer Night's Dream, world-building

Work details

Little, Big by John Crowley (Author)

  1. 40
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    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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Showing 1-5 of 83 (next | show all)
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.

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 |
Is there anything to this besides world-building and poetic language? Probably - but I don't have the patience to find out.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Crowley has created a fantasy that sings with a unique realism. People seem to either love or hate this novel for some reason. I tend to prefer the people who love it..."Is your mind so big that it can encompass galaxies or is the universe little enough to fit in one's head?"
( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Do not read this book unless your feet are firmly nailed in reality lest you get lost in Edgewood and lose yourself. I wish that last sentence was just a flourish but it is, for me, way too close to the truth. There are times that reading this book feels outright dangerous. It is always disorienting and haunting, sometimes cloying like going to visit an old aunt that lives surrounded by things from the past that shape her world and that unexplainably claw at you. This book is unlike any other I have read perched between this world and some other.

I had to take breaks from reading Little, Big. (Timeouts to reconnect to the quotidian.) Having finished Little, Big I am not sure exactly what it is. Fantasy? Doubtful. Marginally. Maybe. Its genealogy seems though more in line with books like Fowles' The Magus and Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, works that leave characters and readers off balance, believers one moment and doubters the next. I am a believer; that is, I am a believer in Little, Big. I am sure as Harold Bloom's blurb suggests this book will reward multiple readings, but this soul, for one, may be too fragile to sustain overhearing one more conversation between Smokey and Daily Alice or Auberon and Sylvie.

Little, Big uses small events and familiar objects that populate our world to conjure a world elsewhere as palpable and ephemeral as our own. None of this would even begin to work without Crowley, the true magician with language, the Prospero of this tale, of The Tale. ( )
3 vote tsgood | Nov 29, 2015 |
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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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
For Lynda
who first knew it
with the author's love
First words
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.
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The things that make us happy make us wise.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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