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Friday, April 8, 2016

Little, Big by John Crowley

A multi-generational family living in an weird, crumbling house, surrounded by off-kilter villagers living in relative isolation from the rest of the world -- In many ways, Little, Big is like an Anglo version of 100 Years of Solitude.  Crowley has written an unusual novel about fairies and the human clan that serves as a bridge between them and the rest of the world.  There is a timeless quality to the narrative, with its lush depictions of nature and its populace with family names like Mouse, Cloud, and Bramble (my favorite: the law firm of Petty, Smilodon, and Ruth), that makes the occasional reference to a phone, car, or tv, jarring.  That timelessness and sense of wonder suit the themes of the novel -- presence and absence, real and unreal, belief and unbelief -- perfectly.  Crowley's language and imagery are gorgeous, and the world he creates is vibrant and full of wonder.

But. Something is keeping me from wholeheartedly embracing Crowley's fiction, and I think it is that his worldview is too different from mine.  In Little, Big there is an absence of good as a concept, as something for anyone to strive for.  We get muted references to Eigenblick's crusade and the rebellion of those against him, but no sense of what either side is fighting for or what the consequences will be for ordinary people.  Ariel Hawksquill, one of the most powerful people in the world, spends much of the book trying to figure out who Eigenblick is and what he means so she can choose a side; but when she makes the choice, it is almost entirely for her own ambitions, not for any greater purpose (good or bad).  The fairy creatures are wholly amoral, as is expected, but the humans are, too, never extrapolating their kindnesses and cruelties and everyday concerns into a larger worldview.  The result is that I felt a certain distance to the narrative.  I enjoyed the novel, and I admire it, but I didn't love it.

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