7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2005
John Crowley is an exemplary writer, whose novels have always struck me with the depth and quality of their insight. This short story collection is a superb addition to the library. The advantage of the short story is that the writer has more opportunity to experiment, since less time is invested, and the goals of a short story are generally more limited than those of a novel.
The only story I'd give less than five stars to is also one of the older ones, "The Green Child," which struck me as less a story than imaginary reportage.
Unless the review is to be as long as the collection, which is the only way to do this collection justice, I'll just hit a few of the stories.
"Antiquities" is a marvelous tale, and the style impressed me as Crowley has the knack of using just the right word to convey not only an action but the manner of the action. Such precision is all too rare.
"Snow" was nominated for a Hugo award for the year it appeared and deserved the award. Unfortunately, it was a banner year for good writing and the story didn't win. In this story, Crowley plays with one of his recurring themes, that memory changes and ages. The insights are, as always, trenchant.
"The Nightingale Sings at Night" is a wonderful creation myth story, the vocabulary and mannerisms perfectly adapted to the story itself. Crowley has mastered many styles and seems to select them to suit each story. This story reminded me somewhat of Kipling's "Just So" stories.
"Novelty," on the other hand, reminded me of James Joyce. The story is told within a story. The basic story is simple enough: A man enters a bar, orders a drink, mildly flirts with a woman who turns out to be the bartender's wife, and leaves. Within that framework, however, deep and subtle movements take place, and the result is that the apparent story is only the tip of the iceberg, the most important part hidden below the surface.
"Great Work of Time" is the longest story in the book and covers more than most doorstop novels. What would happen if history were changeable, could be directed, and memory was an illusion? The story shows us a corridor with doors that can only be opened one at a time, without being able to remember what had hid behind the previous door. It's a dizzying work, as are several of the stories, as one tries to grasp the concepts Crowley seems to have mastered as easily as breathing.
"The War Between the Objects and the Subjects" rather reminded me of Twain, when he was being playful with the language.
Crowley is not for every reader. He is a challenging, demanding writer, but nothing great is achieved without challenge. No one celebrates climbing a molehill. The accomplishment lies in meeting the challenge, and the rewards Crowley offers those who accept the challenge more than equal the effort required.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2004
John Crowley is one the best and most underappreciated writers alive. His talent is comparable to that of William Trevor, John Banville, or Calvino. The stories in this collection are uniformly powerful and ingenious, incredibly clever especially when they start out under the guise of genre stories and become something much, much more, like the one about Virginia Woolf's visit, which manages in a few short pages to say something universal about the nature of time (and has an impact as powerful as, say, Amis's "Time's Arrow," which took a whole novel to make its point). I strongly encourage anyone who loves innovative literature and deep, engaging prose to read this book (and Crowley's other work, as well).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2012
Originally posted on Short Story Review: [...]
I'll admit I have yet to read John Crowley's masterpiece Little, Big. It's on my list, certainly, but I always prefer reading a writer's short stories before delving into their novels. Novelties & Souvenirs therefore served as my introduction to Crowley, and I was in no way disappointed.
There are fifteen stories in this collection written over twenty-five years - one, "Great Work of Time," is a novella - and the stories are presented in the order they were written. Looking for a general progression of Crowley's storytelling ability, I could find none; the stories in the front of the book seem just as well written as those at the back, written further along in Crowley's career. The only trend I noticed was that the stories at the end of the collection seemed to deal more with abstractions. In his earlier short stories, there seems to be little in the way of abstract concepts. In his later work, such as "In Blue," "Lost and Abandoned," and "The War between the Objects and the Subjects," there is more to puzzle over in terms of plot and deeper meaning, though as in all the Crowley stories here, there is certainly a great deal of depth.
My favorite in this collection would have to be the novella "Great Work of Time," in which Crowley proves that the time travel story has certainly not overstayed its welcome. The story, which begins with the origin story for the time machine itself, soon moves to bigger and more complicated matters, such as a secret society of time travelers who work to maintain the British Empire and the values that their benefactor, Cecil Rhodes, held dear and a man, our protagonist, chosen to complete a task he has, in a time travel world, already completed. Complications, of course, arise.
"Great Work of Time" is partly so interesting because of the structure, being broken up into different sections and told out of sequence. It's not the only story where Crowley plays with structure. Two stories, "Antiquities" and "Missolonghi 1824," are told almost entirely in dialogue format, set up beforehand as a meeting between two individuals. In "Antiquities," those two people are friends meeting in a club; one relates the story of the possible supernatural reason behind a plague of inconstancy in a nearby town. In "Missolonghi 1824" the dialogue is between Lord Byron and a young Greek boy. Both are intriguing in both the present of the story and the story being told.
The other stories to keep an eye out for in this collection: "The Nightingale Sings at Night," a creation myth in which the nightingale and the moon are central characters, and though it shares similarities with the story of Adam and Eve, it makes those similarities its own. "Snow" explores a new technology that allows loved ones to record 8,000 hours of one's life in case of death, to remember them. "Gone" is an original first contact story in which people are more than willing to let the aliens into their lives. "Exogamy" is Crowley's take on the fairy tale.
I wasn't crazy about every story here. "Novelty," while beautifully written - Crowley's prose is often goosebump-inducing in its splendor - didn't engage as much in the middle. Told from the perspective of a writer who is so concerned with the ideas of his stories that he finds himself thinking on them more than writing them, the story dwells too long on the idea he's stuck on. Though incredibly poignant in places, especially the end, this story isn't one of my favorites. "The Reason for the Visit," Crowley's homage to Virginia Woolf, interested me in its conclusion, with the question of how far in the past each individual can truly imagine how life was lived, as the quickly accelerating rate of technological makes such imagining more difficult. However, by the end I still wasn't sure what the reason was for the visit.
Woolf's influence in Crowley's work is evident and would be even without the inclusion of aforementioned story. His prose style has a very classic style to it, which makes me feel as if I am reading a modern sort of classic. Crowley can certainly be considered as much.
3 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2008
I had never heard of John Crowley before I stumbled upon a copy of his Novelties & Souvenirs, Collected Short Fiction, a HarperCollins Perennial book from 2004, at a discount bookseller. The subtitle of the book sums up his work- Collected Short Fiction. This is because the tales, fifteen in all, are not really short stories in the classical sense, but more like the bland Ficciones of a Jorge Luis Borges, in that they are scenes, presented usually from a detached, or odd, perspective, with almost no character development nor plot. They are almost like moving paintings of automata- sort of gutless words simply laying there, blandly describing....and describing what they cannot penetrate with character development nor plot.
In looking up some biographical information on Crowley, for this review, I was surprised to learn that he is listed as a fantasist writer, mostly. Why this is odd is because few writers in his style- call it `magical realism' for lack of a true name, writers like Borges, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, are considered fantasists. Perhaps this demarcation is because Crowley is an American, albeit with a penchant for all things British. There is a strong bias in Academia against fantasy writing as a serious subject for literary fiction, at least by Americans. However, when foreigners like the above mentioned, or even a Franz Kafka, do it then the Academics drool.
That said, like most magical realism, Crowley's writing fails. It is too dull, too trite, too familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of sci fi or fantasy, tries to be broad, but often refers to things and books that few people can relate to, thus, without the background knowledge those referents contain, the stories have gaping holes that Crowley's meager prose cannot cement together.
The stories in this collection seem to be in rough chronological order, yet this is a dubious approach to such a collection, for it can reveal, as in this case, a lack of artistic growth. From the earliest tales to the last, Crowley seems to be stuck in one mode- borrow, borrow, borrow. To say he has never had an original thought would be too easy. A thematic grouping may have been better, although, in reality, the tales, themselves, would not have been improved.... Yet, never do any of the fictions in this book ever smell of Crowley. There is nothing in this book that I could state that I could not have found elsewhere, and done better. His paw prints are nowhere to be found. It's not that he's such a bad writer, as much as he is a superfluous writer, one seemingly void of real inspiration, and stuck in a retro-Anglophilic worldview.
I swear, I don't know what annoys me more, the big presses, like this, that deem it fit to publish such uninspired and refried writing, or the small presses who bitch and moan about how corporate giants like HarperCollins are the death of literature, claim that it is their duty to fill in the gaps left by the behemoths, and then merely churn out pointless crap that is just as bad, or worse, as if the solution to the big presses printing garbage is for the little presses to just add to the pile of bad books and writers out there, so that it is next to impossible for readers to find the few writers whose work is of worth to read. That is not the solution, of course, but it does make it necessary for critics to do their job well, and guide the reader. That so few take this role seriously is just another reason for the sad state of contemporary publishing. Not willing to ever let things alone, I state, avoid this book, and this utterly unoriginal writer. He may not kill you with clichés and foul language, the way most PoMo writers do, but he will bore you silly, and only put one thought in your head: I swear I've read a story like that before, but where, and by who? `Tain't good folks. Nope. Put the knick-knacks back where they came from.