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Bookish Thoughts

Book Review: Little, Big

By July 22, 2011One Comment
So after trying out Lyonesse and Illyria, my next foray into the fantasy genre is also a World Fantasy Award winner, which maybe starts to reveal what it takes to win the World Fantasy Award. Like Illyria, Little, Big is….hmm….confusing. But not as frustrating in its opaqueness as Illyria.

Little, Big as a novel is definitely big, and not little. It’s a 500 + page tome that covers multiple generations of the Drinkwater family. The Drinkwater family is special and different, but no one, including many of the Drinkwater’s themselves, are sure exactly how or why they’re special. Fairies seem to be involved. Perhaps some theosophy and wizardry. Their fate becomes very important to the fate of the world as a whole, and the story moves from the Drinkwater home somewhere in upstate New York to the “City,” which is, of course, New York City. The City. But still a place populated by faires and magic.

As I read this book, I kept saying to my husband, “I’m waiting for the payoff.” I was waiting for the big reveal, when all the things that didn’t make sense would suddenly become clear. I didn’t get it. If you need a payoff, avoid this book like the plague. I still can’t tell you for sure what happened in the end.

The good news is, that turned out to be at least okay. I wasn’t angry that I didn’t get the payoff, and I’m a person who generally really likes some clarity. I like in the end to have all the I’s dotted and all the T’s crossed. But I think perhaps this book weaved its magic in a more subtle way. Perhaps that’s the nature of magic. The I’s don’t get dotted nor the T’s crossed. Perhaps this book is, in fact, magic. I can’t tell you how it worked. I can’t tell you what affect it had. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel like my life had been changed. I didn’t even really miss the characters after they were gone, which is usually the after effect of reading a very long book. But the book lingered, like a very subtle film that had drifted down over my life, quietly, stealthily. Like some mysterious spell had been cast. Like for a moment, my perception had been shifted ever so slightly. And that is an…interesting effect.

Harold Bloom on the cover and in other places has called this book a “neglected masterpiece.’ I don’t know about that. It is beautifully written without trumpeting itself (“Look at this sentence! Look at me, look at me!”) and as I’ve discussed already, beautiful writing doesn’t seem to be the status quo in the fantasy genre. Crowley might be trying to tell a story about America, as the essay at the end of the book suggests. There’s some reference to empire which I personally find rather timely in relation to our current situation.

“Neglected masterpiece” or not, I don’t know what to tell you about reading this book–whether you should or should not read it. It’s a lot of work in terms of length for a strange and probably fairly fleeting effect. I guess it’s a bit like a Midsummer’s Night Dream, which is probably a lot of what Crowley intended. A fairy diversion.

If we shadows have offended
Think but this, and all is mended
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme
No more yielding but a dream,

One Comment

  • picky girl says:

    This book is my friend's favorite. I have it and started it last year but put it down. I need to pick it back up again. I was impressed because Bloom is so critical. Thanks for the review.

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