Little, Big by John Crowley
Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith, bookseller at Hay Cinema Bookshop
I have this book in the Fantasy Masterworks series – reprints of fantasy novels which stand out in the genre – and when you get a quote from Ursula le Guin on the back, saying: “A book that all by itself calls for a redefinition of fantasy”, you know you’re getting something special. It won the Hugo Award in 1982, and the World Fantasy Award, and was nominated for several other awards.
The nearest thing to a normal person in the book is Smoky Barnable, who has fallen in love with Daily Alice Drinkwater. The Drinkwater family live in a very strange house, built by an architect to demonstrate five different styles of architecture – and if you stand at just the right spot in the garden on each of the five sides, you can only see the style of the side in front of you. But inside, it seems bigger, somehow, and more confused …
It is a family saga over four generations, starting with the man who built the house, and includes fairies, and talking fish, and people who believe they are living the plot of a fairy tale.
I think I fell in love with the book when I read the description of Daily Alice taking a bath, in the second chapter, in a Gothic bathroom with stained glass windows. Other characters move to New York City, to live in a crumbling building there. Another character writes the story of the Drinkwater family as a TV soap opera, and another makes a memory garden.
It’s not a quick read – it’s the sort of book to immerse yourself in, like Daily Alice in her bath, while taking any strangeness you may come across in your stride, as if it is only to be expected. And it’s a gentle book – there are no battles or explosions, though there are deaths along the way.