Little, Big

by Henry Farrell on April 26, 2006

Via “Locus”: I see that John Crowley now has a “Livejournal”: Crowley’s novel _Little Big_ is a masterpiece. I keep three or four copies around the house so that I always have a spare to press on visitors. It’s astonishingly good – and if you don’t believe me, ask Michael Dirda of the Washington Post (who thinks it’s a candidate for best American novel of the last thirty years), Harold Bloom (his favourite novel: point blank) or “James Hynes”:

bq. I’ve read _Little, Big_ four times now, and wept shamelessly each time over those last, extraordinary fifty pages, and over the years have purchased and given away fifteen copies of it (when I could find it–it is inconsistently in print). When “You’ll love this” isn’t recommendation enough, I have proceeded to claim (as I’m claiming here) that Little, Big is an Important American Novel that bears comparison to such works as _One Hundred Years of Solitude_ and Nabokov’s _Ada_.

Worth blogrolling (how many genuinely great writers are out there in the blogosphere?), and more to the point, worth buying his books (esp. _Little Big_; I also loved his recent chapbook, “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines”).



Matt 04.26.06 at 10:26 pm

If you’re interested in giving away another copy I’d be willing to take it.


John Quiggin 04.26.06 at 11:08 pm

“The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines” was a real book from C19, wasn’t it? (Of course, so much the better as a title for a modern chapbook).


Kieran Healy 04.26.06 at 11:28 pm

I will confess to having tried _L,B_ and failed to get past p.20. I should really give it another shot. It was just that, every time I opened it and began to read, it seemed like a little woodwind quintet consisting of five, sepia-toned people of indeterminate age would begin playing quietly just outside the front door of my house.


Steve 04.26.06 at 11:39 pm

I’m quite fond of Engine Summer as well, although I’ve never read AEgypt, which people often say is his second-best book.


Kip Manley 04.26.06 at 11:46 pm

Ægypt is a better book—Ægypt may be the best book—but there’s few enough of us who think this way. Little, Big is good, and yet.


Kip Manley 04.27.06 at 12:04 am

PS: Thanks, Henry, for the Hynes link. —I am curiously pleased to note from Crowley’s userinfo page that “the final volume is in preparation.” I guess I know what I’ll be doing, soon enough.


Daniel 04.27.06 at 1:59 am

and yet his Livejournal is AFAICT indistinguishable from any of the other five zillion teenage goth Livejournals. Further proof of the corrupting influence of Livejournal. I suspect that if Keats had a Livejournal, it would say “OMG the Cure are touring again LOL! I hope I get tickets but not with Dean because he is being an asshole these days etc etc etc etc etc forever”.


Brendan 04.27.06 at 2:39 am

LOL to Daniel. There are probably amusing (or ‘amusing’ depending on your point of view) Livejournal to be written for (the first ones that spring to mind) Kafka, Celine, Wittgenstein and Brecht (‘OMG was talking to W.B. the other day and he was SO like Lenin is the coolest and I was so TOtally like saying yeh yeh yeh and then he was just like you know but Stalin is just like GUH-ROSS, and I was just like whatEVER, so I am TOtally like not talking to him but guess wot I won the Stalin Peace Prize Yay to me!! He will be SO jelous.’ etc.)

The ultimate alternative world novel: what if the world’s greatest intellectuals and writers had been 13 year old girls?


joel turnipseed 04.27.06 at 3:07 am

Well… I confess to never having read either Aegypt or Little, Big–though both are on my long-list. As to the mockery of the blog: I’d go easy here & am struck by the following…

It’s easy to forget how–despite the great difficulties of achievement any writing represents–what a testament any body of work is to restraint. If you assume the average intelligent person talks at 120-150 WPM, and types at 60-90 WPM–and split the difference, you get a “communicative capacity” of 90-120 WPM. If we further assume a lazy several hours a day, we reach a daily production of “thoughts in the head, notes, conversations, etcetera” of 32,400 to 43,200 words per day. If you then further assume that any decent writer not named Updike or Oates will, at best, write four or five good books of 90K to 120K words each, you quickly realize: these things are the distillation of a tiny fraction of 1% of what any given author has to say in the 20-odd years it takes to write their books.

Now, this may be all the more reason not to blog (or: note to self–comment on blogs)–but it should hardly count against any writer if their piecemeal/haphazard jottings of a morning are neither more nor less than your average intelligent person’s outpouring(and hell: given the immense boredom of the life of writing, they may well be more banal and generally-uninspired).

But that’s just a thought…


Rich Puchalsky 04.27.06 at 8:54 am

Little, Big and Engine Summer are his two best works, I think. I never understood why people thought that Aegypt or the associated series were as good as many seem to think it is.

Doing famous writers in Livejournal is a natural segue to his book _Lord Byron’s Novel_, which alternates the purported text of Lord Byron’s lost novel, Ada Lovelace’s comments on it, and its rediscoverers chatting about it in highly slang-filled Email. It was quite good, though not among his best, I thought.


Doug 04.27.06 at 9:29 am

Well Kieran, if they start playing again invite them in for tea, for goodness’ sake! And listen to their stories.

On no account, however, should you join them on a little walk…


Stephen Frug 04.27.06 at 11:36 am

Kieran: This may say less about you than about Little, Big, It took me several tries to get into it, although when I finally did I loved it. Then, after finishing it, I went online, googled it… and found post after post of people saying ‘this is my favorite book in the world but it took me several tries to get into it’.

So no promises that it’ll be your favorite book, but many people have had difficulty getting into it even if they later love it. So give it another shot — or maybe even two.


Henry 04.27.06 at 12:23 pm

Yep – I had the same reaction as stephen frug. The first time I read it, I didn’t like it much – but something bugged me about it, and I re-read it again. And have been re-reading it every year or two ever since. It seems charming and meandering at first casual glance, but then it closes like a steel trap. There’s a profound and almost savage melancholy underlying the book.


Matt Weiner 04.27.06 at 1:53 pm

Agreed with Rich Puhalsky in 10; or maybe I do understand why people like Aegypt so, since I think the things it’s obsessed with are damned interesting things, I just don’t think it works as a novel.

But then I did get into Little, Big the first time, maybe I should give Aegypt etc. another crack sometime. (And I have Henry and Holbo to thank for cluing me in to Crowley.)

This worries me though.


Kieran Healy 04.27.06 at 2:37 pm

There’s a profound and almost savage melancholy underlying the book.

Yes, this is what I smelled in the first 20 pages, hence the portable woodwind section.


Slayton I. Mustgo 04.27.06 at 3:07 pm

I found Aegypt excessively pedestrian for a fantasy, but I LOVED the central gag, the one-night stand by the river and the mistaken identity problem. (Not too spoilerish, I hope.)

Happens to me all the time, but with less serious effects.


Doug 04.27.06 at 4:20 pm

I got into Little, Big the first time around, too, but I took it very slowly. Then I read the early novels, and it was apparent (though I am not quite sure how) that he had been writing Little, Big while finishing the other three. Aegypt is the start of something new, though I have read the three volumes so far apart from one another that I am less and less sure what that something is.


Renee Perry 04.28.06 at 9:16 pm

Clicking away from the Crowley LiveJournal, I found out that this is the 25th anniversary of Little, Big. There’s going to be an anniversary edition with an introduction by Harold Bloom and illustrated by Peter Milton. I’m not sure how I feel about the Bloom introduction, but Milton’s work looks like a good choice for the strangely prosaic fantasy of the book.

Little, Big is one of my favorite books to re-read. Thanks for reminding me. It’s about time to read it again.

btw did anyone else like Crowley’s The Translator?

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