Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Little, Big by John Crowley

Little, Big
Little, Big by John Crowley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Out of 538 pages, this book has perhaps 20 I'd call good. They are not consecutive.

I picked this up because it was on io9's list of 10 Books Every Fantasy Author Should Read. So now I know where not to get my book recommendations in the future.

The book follows several generations of Drinkwaters who live in the fictional town of Edgewood in a house that appears to be a different structure from each side. The Drinkwaters play some part in a larger Tale, which means that everything they do is Somehow Important. Why does anyone do anything they do? For Reasons, okay?

If you want emotional engagement in a book, you're looking in the wrong place. This book actively resists any emotional verity. It pushes the reader away, actively. It starts off with a sweet love story about Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater, but he cheats on her before the story's halfway point. Why? Because the Tale says so.

I kept reading because I expected illumination by the end. Instead, we get a stuttering conversation between two sisters, who step around any answers with, "Well, I want to tell you, but . . ." for three damn pages. And that really stands in for most of the book. People do things for no reason, they talk around whatever the reader really wants to know, and wax poetic about things that may well have something to do with that inscrutable conclusion.

The language, by the way, can be quite poetic and pretty. But when the poetic meandering is about how much it sucks to be dumped YEARS later, or about the romance of a drunken bender where a guy sleeps with his lost lover's brother, I'm less than enchanted. It struck me as pseudo-intellectual BS, the prose too in love with itself to bother engaging the reader.

I had hoped for illumination, for this journey to be worth it by the end. Instead, I felt jerked around for 538 pages. I understood the ending just fine, but I didn't think it was worth all the enigmatic mutterings to get there.

If you like your narratives inscrutable and pointless, by all means, slog through this. If you're reading this, though, and wondering if it's worth finishing, save yourself and stop now. It may well be good for you to read, but that doesn't mean you have to waste the hours and hours and hours it'll take you to wade through it if you don't like it.

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  1. Really pleased to see someone else thought that about this book, Alice. I read it because it was on my 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels list, but it was one of the worst books I'd read in a long time. You and I actually have very similar views on it.

    1. It's always nice to know one hasn't lost one's mind. I'm reading all these reviews that gush about how beautiful and satisfying it is, after reading on io9 about how it's recommended reading for modern storytellers.

      Um, no. Maybe it was a generation ago, but we've evolved since then, thank goodness.

      I constantly run up against this idea, that inscrutable is the same as well-written, and it frustrates me to no end.