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REVIEW: Little, Big by John Crowley



SYNOPSIS: (from the back cover) little, big tells the epic story of Smoky Barnable – an anonymous young man who meets and falls in love with Daily Alice Drinkwater, and goes to live with her in Edgewood, a place not found on any map. In an impossible mansion full of her relatives, who all seem to have ties to another world not far away, Smoky fathers a family and tried to learn what tale he has found himself in – and how it is to end.


PROS: Magical prose, memorable characters.

CONS: The book did not have conflict (or at least not MUCH conflict), but rather meanders through telling various family members’ stories.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read. Probably the best love story I’ve ever read.

I found this book while at a Borders waiting for another author to sign a different book I’d bought. I still haven’t read that book, but have just finished little, big.

The Synopsis from the back cover leads you to believe that the story centers around Smoky Barnable, an ‘outsider’ that marries Daily Alice and moves to the house at Edgewood. While that is how the story opens, little, big is so much broader than that, telling the interleaving stories of all the Drinkwaters, throughout the generations. Each character is richly detailed, and I found myself wanting to learn more about the entire family.

The magic in the book (i.e. what makes it a fantasy, and not just ordinary fiction) is used subtly and in very interesting fashion.

I have only one real complaint with the book, but it bears mentioning – there’s not really much confict. The only real antagonist in the book, Russel Eigenblick (what an great name, like most of the other names in the story) plays only a minor part, and what happens to him at the end left me scratching my head. In fact, the end of the story left me scratching my head in other ways (head lice?) Someone else needs to read this so we can talk about it!

little, big reminds me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned in which supernatural beings gather at an old house for a family reunion. Like From the Dust, little, big doesn’t really tell one story, but instead tells the story of each family member (actually From the Dust is a collection of short stories.) Also, in both books the house is really the ‘glue’ that holds (or brings) the families together. (BTW – I also highly recommend that book.)

Overall a very ‘nice’ story. To be read for the journey, and not the destination.

3 Comments on REVIEW: Little, Big by John Crowley

  1. As you know, Kevin, I started that book around the same time you did…but I had to put it down because it left me just plain bored. The next two books I read (The Space Merchants and Blue Light) I found to be highly enjoyable. I found myself wishing that Crowley’s “classic” Little, Big could have been as enjoyable. Then again, I would not call myself a huge fantasy fan. And now that you mention it, it was the lack of conflict/drama that eventually overwhelmed the enjoayble prose. I do plan on checking out some of Crowley’s other work.

  2. LITTLE, BIG is a personal favorite of mine. The deeper in you go, the bigger it gets. There is no conflict in the book, if by that we mean fights and arguments. Instead the story is more like a mystery; not a murder mystery, but the mystery of life itself, how time is related to eternity, how the world of men is part of a smaller (yet somehow much larger) a world supernal, numenous, strange and familiar. It is the story of outsiders trying to penetrate to a mystery in the middle of the fairy lore. It is the tale of the elevation of a new order of being (a similar theme to some of Crowley’s other works, such as AEGPT).

    Crowley himself, in one passage, tells the reader his plan for the book: one of the characters is a scriptwriter in The City, and the scripts consist of hints that some great event is in the offing, so that the reader is kept breathless with excitement that the veil is about to be taken aside, and a panorama of wonder to open.

  3. Daniel Smith // January 27, 2009 at 6:06 am //

    I found with Little, Big that it really does merit re-reading. It is a book that grows on you. It’s not an easy book, certainly it isn’t full of swash-buckling adventure. You could argue that it isn’t a fantasy book: rather it is a novel in a fantastic setting. The beauty of the book is not in what is said (although John Crowley’s ability to hang words like pearls on a sentence is rather subline) but in what is left un-said. It is precisely this quality that rewards re-reading.

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