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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Little, Big

Recommended: Little, Big (John Crowley)

Little, Big is an odd but rewarding book.

The story starts out with Smoky Barnable, walking to a place called Edgewood, where he is soon to be married. For two years he's been courting Daily Alice Drinkwater (yes, this book is filled with interesting names). From here, we are introduced to the mysteries of Edgewood through Smoky's eyes.

Soon after, the story meanders, and it sketches out the lives of multiple generations of the Bramble/Drinkwater/Barnable family tree. Looking back at the story, I find that the family tree illustrated at the beginning of the book evokes the structure of the narrative, which is tangled and sprawling. It moves back and forth through time, and focuses not only on Smoky and Alice, but on their ancestors and children as well.

At times, it has an atmosphere that reminds me of the tales of Merlin and King Arthur, but set in modern time. Fairies hide around corners, just waiting to be photographed. A sprawling house of indeterminate architecture, a mansion fashioned of memory, a stolen child, a doppleganger, a magic fish, and other strange creatures, places, and people all conspire to make the modern and mundane magical, and thus fun.

There are also your usual dramatic trappings of lost love, family conflict, personal failings, and their consequences. These draw out the characters, in particular Smoky, Alice, and their son, Auberon. And despite the magical elements surrounding them, the characters and their challenges are still all very human.

The length of this book, as well as the plotting may put off some readers. I see this as an unfortunate consequence of its nature as a generations-spanning story of a family. However, it manages its form quite well in my opinion, and much better than some other books I've read that follow a similar pattern (Anne Rice's The Witching Hour comes to mind, ugh).

I greatly enjoyed what this book had to offer in terms of atmosphere and plot. These are the aspects of the book that really stick out to me. It gave me a reading experience that was much different than what I have come to expect from the fantasy genre, and that's a good thing.

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