Little, Big by John Crowley

October 6, 2005 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | 1 Comment

I believe this book to be a masterpiece, but I cannot prove it, because I simply am not equipped to appreciate it. There is absolutely no question it is well written…more, it is as well written as anything I have ever read. However, my tastes are out of phase with this book…if you have read it (this isn’t a spoiler), the book provides an able metaphor for my experience in Smoky, who cannot truly be an active player in the Tale despite being in it. I read the book and appreciated its obvious technical merits, but the higher beauty all that gorgeous prose was striving for eludes me.

Will it elude you too? No way to be sure, but here’s what you need to know. Although this has a pretty intricate story, the book is very much an atmosphere piece. That’s not to say I dislike all atmosphere pieces, but there’s something else to add: it is a Faerie story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy that sort of thing in its more accessible forms, like Gaiman’s Neverwhere. However, here you do not just catch a whiff of Faerie, it is the very air you breathe as a reader. It is the haze through which you perceive the story. If you like Faerie stories, I would conjecture Little, Big is the highest, purest, and even best such story. When you get down to it I don’t like Faerie stories, so while the quality of the writing kept me reading, I didn’t truly enjoy the book. It’s a slow read regardless because the long and twisting story never quite grabbed me. The flow of the narrative is that of a wide, ambling river instead of the fast moving rapids that our culture tends to encourage in its entertainment.

If you think there is even a chance you like Faerie stories (I assume most people, based on the imperfect description here, will not be sure) you owe it to yourself to give this book a try. However, plowing through it requires a larger than usual commitment from the reader, so don’t be afraid to give up if after two hundred pages you aren’t enjoying it. If you don’t feel yourself to be in the book’s audience by that point, that will never truly change.


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