“Little, big” is about a family – the Drinkwaters – who see faeries, and whose fates are somehow linked to the world of faery. It all revolves around the family home, a large mansion somewhere in the countryside. Family members come to the house, leave it and come back again, marry into it and grow up in it. There is a sense that the house and the family are there for a purpose, even though no one really knows what that purpose might be.

It’s widely described as a masterwork and a classic, which led me to expect a lot more than the book had to offer. The language is beautiful – “lyrical” and “poetic” are terms that seem to recur in many reviews. But the author doesn’t seem do much with it. The book felt like it was building up and promising that more would come, but it never delivers. The story just ambles on while nothing much happens, occasionally slowing down further, and then it ends with nothing particularly climactic. Pleasant but unremarkable characters go about their slightly mysterious yet ultimately unremarkable lives. “Pleasant but ultimately unremarkable” is, in fact, quite a good summary of my impressions of this book. It is sort of like a long and fantastic dream… and then you just wake up. Meh.

Much of this lack of action is surely intentional, because this “waiting for something to happen” is exactly what the various Drinkwater family members spend a lot of their time doing. They are aware that their world is a magical place, even if nothing magical happens most of the time. They feel like they are on the edge of something big that can only barely be perceived. But that is in my mind not enough to keep a book going.

While I was reading “Little, Big”, I rather enjoyed it. But looking back, it didn’t leave a particularly strong impression, and even while I was partway through the book, it didn’t feel particularly important that I finish it. One reviewer at Amazon had a very apt comment that explains this:

Because it has no plot, you can open the book anywhere and start reading, set it aside, open it up tomorrow at a different place and it won’t make any difference to your comprehension of the story. No one chapter is contingent on the chapter that precedes it. No one chapter ever really resolves anything.

It’s somewhat tempting to look for reasons why I wasn’t more impressed with what’s so often lauded as a masterpiece. Perhaps I approached the book with the wrong assumptions. I was expecting a fantasy book, but got a meandering family saga. Or perhaps it simply isn’t for all tastes.