Ulverton by Adam Thorpe
(likelihood of finishing - 6/10, if I can skip this chapter)
This is the one that has been hanging about for longest. It's a technically brilliant and moving novel. It's set in an Oxfordshire village from the English Civil War to the present day. Each chapter is a vivid snapshot about forty years on from the previous, telling a completely different life story. The voice of each individual - age, sex, class, education - is beautifully nuanced. It celebrates the mass of people like Gray's Elegy. The reason I got stuck is that chapter 9 (1887) is written in dialect with no punctuation like this (copied verbatim)
bloody pig-stickin them old hooks jus yowlin out for grease haaf rust look yaa that old Stiff all pinch up screw all pinch an bloody screw aye shut he fast now hup ramshackle old bugger see med do with a stopp spikin onto post wi' that hang yaa a deal more years nor Hoppety have a-had boy eh why Mr Perry why ah well they says as old Tom Katchaside seed his angel a-whiverin over here when he were a-hangin it
I can manage a bit of that, but it goes on for 18 pages. I can't do it.
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
(likelihood of finishing - 7/10, because I am most of the way through)
This is an interesting science fiction novel, with a very different setting to any of Reynolds' other books. It's set on Mars way in the future. It begins in a city which is also the ancient root anchor of a sky-cable - not unlike the location for Feersum Endjinn. The surface of the planet is engulfed in technology-suppressing force fields of some kind. Advanced technology survives very high up the shaft of the cable, in precarious sky-cities, and as we approach the planet surface there are zones with increasingly primitive technology. The surface of the planet is steam-punk. Actually it's more like Wild, Wild West.
The start of the book was great, I thought, really lively and interesting. I got a bit bored by the airship-steam-punk. I think - I have no evidence - that this book was written hastily. The first section seems much more polished and controlled. The lengthy middle section seemed a bit scrappy. I didn't get to the end. I will try and finish this soon, because it's a shame to abandon it.
Before the Frost by Henning Mankell
(likelihood of finishing - 10/10)
A Wallander novel on audio. I tried an abridged audio last year because it was all they had on audible.co.uk at the time, and I couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. That was obviously because the strength of these novels is not in the detective solving the crimes, but in the dreamy and poetic atmosphere which is lost by abridgement. In this full version it is compelling. I have seen this story as a TV version, and the novel is way, way better. Even though this is a translation, the language is great. I will finish this quickly and easily.
Incidentally it is about a traumatised survivor of the Jim Jones suicide-massacre in Guyana, and it's thoughtful and occasionally quite violent.
Veteran by Gavin Smith
(likelihood of finishing 1/10)
A misjudgement to buy this. I think it's written by a very young man, for very young men. It's about the adventures of a retired cyber-enhanced soldier, living in a brutal future Dundee, recalled to action to fight Alien invaders. I think that could be a great story, but this is written for a particular type of reader, which is not me. I just opened the book at random to type a paragraph so you could see the style, and I got one about a pimp attempting to cut holes in a captured alien so that people can fuck it. But that's not the reason I didn't like this book, it's just poorly written.
C by Tom McCarthy
(likelihood of finishing, 4/10)
Booker nominee. I saw it in the shop and thought I'd try it. It's supposed to be 'experimental' but what I have read so far seems fairly conventional. It's about a passive lad growing up with an assertive science-mad sister in an Edwardian home for the deaf run by his father. I think it will follow his life. I think from reviews that his life mirrors the development of communications technologies, from wireless onwards. It seems OK. I'm not gripped. I should persevere.