I'm going to try to write a review that is less convoluted than this book, but that may be difficult as my brain still feels a bit scattered. The three star rating on this is a definitely an averaging in my head. There were parts of it that were beautiful and startling and wonderful to read (and would garner 5 stars), but the long journey sequences were too dreamlike and nonsensical (think James Joyce's Ulysess dream-like sequence when he trips out) to even follow at times. It was just cumbersome. I am a fairly quick and focused reader and yet, I fell asleep at least 5 times while reading this book and had to struggle through (and so I would like to give it a 1 star rating).
My biggest complaint was that it was not a real fairy tale (yes, pun intended), but instead was a Tale (capital T) constructed out of what a tale should be. There were never any fairies in the tale (with the sole exceptions of Mrs. Underhill and the three people with whom she lives and Smoky briefly meets); it was just the Tale. I think Crowley was trying to write intelligently, but he forgot to have a story. The story (of course) is that Love is the spring that follows winter and that all things happen to all of us at once (the passage and re-passage of Time) and okay, yeah but the build up of the Tale was sort of a let down. I mean really, what happened? The house was built as a door, but no one ever went through it (except the kids, but then they forgot as they got older), the fairies never appeared, and eventually the house decayed and Smoky died. All just sort of screen and puff in a Wizard of Oz man behind the curtain fashion.
On page 43 we get Violet's dad's definition of the Elsewhere (to which the house is a door, but never used): "'The explanation is that the world inhabited by these beings is not the world we inhabit. It is another world entirely, and it is enclosed within this one; it is in a sense a universal retreating mirror image of this one, with a peculiar geography I can only describe as infundibular,' He paused for effect. 'I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until, at the center point, it is infinite.'" This definition (something being larger than it appears or smaller than it should be or changing size throughout) is recurring. Clearly, the title also makes reference to this idea that the things that are most important to us (ie. love and time) are actually quite small, but they are big in effect.
At times this book reminded me of Byatt's The Children's Book; at times of Gaiman's American Gods, and at times Thomas McCarthy's C. I don't necessarily mean this as a compliment. The Victorian steam-punk attributes of The Children's Book and C are repeated here (as is the old house/rambling large gatherings/potentially incestuous relations), but I did not feel that Little, Big had has much structure or real purpose. In American Gods, Gaiman also falls off the fantastical edge and has characters traveling through and back and creates a war, but again I didn't think there was as much purpose with Crowley's work (after all the war just ends because it was not really a war to begin with...in fact we do not ever really find out what Mrs. Underhill is doing or why the fairies would care two shakes about us silly humans).
Overall, I guess I feel like I've invested a bit into this cloud-like shape that has evaporated or attempted to build a sand castle just below the tide mark as high tide comes in. I'm left with a few pretty images and some overall themes, but nothing really substantial to hold onto.
My favorite quotes had nothing really to do with the book: "If you know how to read, the World of Books is open to you, after all; and if you like to read, you'll read. If you don't, you'll forget whatever anybody makes you read, anyway."
and "the terrible understanding of the addict: the understanding that she was doomed, had lost her way in this realm, had, not meaning to, gone too far in to find a way out--that the only way out was to go in, give in, fly further in--that the only way to ameliorate the horror of her addiction was to indulge it."
and "He wondered how long lovers are lovers before they stop having to plot each other's seduction. Never? Perhaps never. Perhaps the lures get smaller, more perfunctory. Or maybe just the reverse."