When I was about half way through Will Self's latest novel Shark, back in November, I went down to Bristol to see him at one of those reading/signing/promotional evenings authors do. He talked about some of the ideas behind the novel and the process of writing it, and read a a passage from early on in the book. I say read, it was really performed, as he gave each character a unique voice and brought their words to life.
The evening completely changed the way I was reading the book in a wonderful way: I started to read all the characters in the accents and speech habits their author had given them and I began to notice details that I hadn't been picking up on before, such as the obscure historic pop-cultural references that litter one of the main character's speech.
I found I enjoyed Shark a little more than Umbrella, and I think this was partly a result of hearing the characters 'speak', and understanding how and why their author created them, and so relating to them in a way you are not always able to as a reader. I also enjoyed the variety in the lives of the characters in the novel, in particular Jeannie, later called Genie, a drug addict who's childhood is explored and whose 'Mumsie' turns out to be a regular at the Plantation Club, which Self readers will know well!
Going from Umbrella straight onto Shark also meant I was tuned into the stream-of-consciousness writing style from the off, and once you get used to it it becomes almost natural and stops getting in the way of your following the characters stories develop. Apparently the next novel will be the final part of a trilogy, so I'm looking forward to what that will bring!