The Water Babies: 2, Oisin: Nil

Goddammit, I tried. I tried to read ‘The Water Babies’ when I was a kid, maybe between ten or twelve. For those who don’t know, it’s a classic nineteenth century children’s story by Charles Kingsley.
The first time I read it, I think I just made it to where the plucky young chimney sweep, Tom, screws up the job, escapes from his cruel boss, Grimes, and finds his way to the stream where he is transformed. It may have been sheer exhaustion that got me. The first chapter is thirty-three pages of dense text. And those chapters don’t get any shorter. Modern young readers need to come up for air a bit more often.
Water BabiesI recently picked it up again. It’s been itching at me for a while to see what I had missed. It is a very light-hearted story, narrated in a lyrical way, with a fatherly tone that makes you imagine you’re sitting on Charles Kingsley’s knee as he tells you this tale.
Unfortunately, I found that first chapter the most engaging. The rest is very playful and imaginative, but it also has the didactic Victorian moral tone laced through it and not much in the way of plot. I got about two thirds of the way through, and just had to admit I was struggling to keep my attention on it. As someone once said to me, life is too short and there are too many books for you to waste time reading ones you don’t like (actually they said ‘crap books’, but that woud be unfair to Mr Kingsley).
I like a lot of nineteenth century stuff. I believe that much of the storytelling we use in modern publishing finds it roots in stories from this era, and ‘The Water Babies’ is recognized as a great book. But maybe my attention span is getting shorter these days. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood, or was too busy to give it the time it needed. Or maybe I would always get bored before I reached the end. Whatever it was, there are too many other things I have to read.
To reinforce my image as a complete philistine, I have to mention ‘JCVD’. This is, wait for it . . . a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. Now, I like action films – they are my junk food for the brain. But even I normally draw the line at Van Damme’s straight-to-video offerings. He and Steven Seagal have cornered the market in formulaic martial arts shite. And I was a martial arts shite fan for many years, so I know what I’m talking about. How could they always have the money for pyrotechnics and stunt men, but could never find themselves a decent script?
JCVD CoverSo, anyway, it was with some surprise that I found Mags and Tom from CBI recommending one of Van Damme’s films to me – particularly as it is named after him. To my astonishment, ‘JCVD’ is a really good film. Funny, sharply written (and I’m not just saying that ‘cos half of it’s in sub-titles) and well-shot, solidly rooted in a thriller plot.
Even the man himself comes across well – or rather he doesn’t, appearing jaded, frustrated, vulnerable and struggling with a career that has got into a tiresome, dead-end rut. He actually brings some pathos to the piece. Who’d have thought it? This is not going to drive you into arthouse foreign film territory, but it’s head and shoulders above the formulaic action films that are too easy an option on a lazy night in.
I’ve also just finished reading the fourth book of ‘100 Bullets’. This is one of the best comics series I’ve come across in years – hard-boiled crime thrillers whose writing and artwork are excellent and perfectly matched.
100 Bullets CoverIn each story, the enigmatic Agent Graves approaches someone who’s down on their luck and makes them a proposition. He gives them a briefcase. In this case is proof of how one culprit has ruined that person’s life, and a handgun with one hundred bullets. If these bullets are used to kill someone, any investigation into that murder will cease once the bullets are identified. Use this gun, and you will get away with murder.
And so each person who receives this case has to decide whether to use it, and how they will go about it. If you’re into crime thrillers, or comics in general, or just a bloody good story, you should pick these up.
So, I’ve just knocked a nineteenth century classic and recommended a comic and a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. Shocking.