by Natasha Brown
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Pub Date 14 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 14 Dec 2021
FINALIST FOR THE 2022 LA TIMES ART SEIDENBAUM AWARD FOR FIRST FICTION.
“The electrifying fiction debut that has been called ‘a modern Mrs. Dalloway.’”—THE ATLANTIC
"Mind-bending and utterly original."—Brandon Taylor
“Slim in the hand, but its impact is massive.”—Ali Smith
One woman. One day. One decision. A blistering, fearless, and unforgettable literary debut from "a stunning new writer." (Bernardine Evaristo)
Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Go to college, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy an apartment. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going.
The narrator of Assembly is a black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can’t escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?
Assembly is a story about the stories we live within – those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers.And it is about one woman daring to take control of her own story, even at the cost of her life. With a steely, unfaltering gaze, Natasha Brown dismantles the mythology of whiteness, lining up the debris in a neat row and walking away.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 38 members
This is a book about different scenes of a black woman’s life deconstructed via stream of consciousness. Micro aggressions and racism on display as she makes her way through society. I honestly loved it it’s very different writing style but beautiful, lyrical almost.
Assembly is structured as a collection of loosely connected introspective thoughts of a young British woman of color who has (by society’s standards) attained “success:” She has attained a degree from an esteemed university, has secured a coveted leadership position at a prominent financial institution, owns her home, and is outwardly succeeding financially and socially - yet, she’s an emotional wreck.
In essence, she’s succumbing to a lifetime of internal and external pressure to conform, excel, and take advantage of the opportunities that were denied her ancestors. Compound this angst with subtle microaggressions in and out of the workplace, the daily headlines steeped in racism and xenophobia (nationally and globally), and the burden of fulfilling a “superwoman” type of role model - one she didn’t ask for and no longer wants to play. In totality, all of this has left her exhausted and a bit apathetic. She is the corporation’s “living proof” of diversity and feels guilty perpetuating the “be best, work hard, etc.” propaganda to the next generation. She thinks, “Best case: those children grow up, assimilate, get jobs and pour money into a government that forever tells them they are not British.”
While this is a work of contemporary fiction, the narrator’s observations and critiques are timely and spot on. I highlighted many passages throughout this short novel because her reflections on race, assimilation, acceptance, British nationalism, classism, corporate politics offer food for thought that will linger on the mental palate long after closing the book. Well done!
Many thanks to Little, Brown, and Co and NetGalley for the advanced copy! This is a book about areas of a black woman’s life written through stream of consciousnesses. The writing style is unlike anything I've read and I flew through it. Very important topics on racism, classism, and sexism throughout. Highly recommend.
Assembly, by Natasha Brown, is a beautiful, poetic novella, about an abhorrent topic - racism. This book made me absolutely furious, and I rolled my eyes at some characters so often I feared I would never be able to see again.
Our unnamed narrator is an independently wealthy young woman, working in The City (a vomit-worthy term, basically meaning London’s financial district). She is Black, and this quickly becomes apparent through the hostility her male colleagues bestow upon her, hinting she has it “easier” in a world that likes to be seen as diverse. Our narrator is also suffering from a cancer scare, and the similarities between the illness eating away at her flesh, and the racism eroding her soul, are staggering.
Our narrator has had to assimilate to get to her current position, and as a result has picked up some particularly odious acquaintances. Her closest female friend, Rach, is vapid, and once called our narrator from the Hermes store, crying at the beauty of it all.
Her boyfriend, however, is a real piece of work. The only thing I ever-so-slightly questioned in this book is how a successful, bright woman ended up with such a moron. His constant references to how rich she is clearly shows how uncomfortable he is with the situation. The dichotomy of her earned wealth and his inherited wealth is apparent; she worked harder than he ever will, yet he is handed every privilege based purely on the family into which he was born.
But the central voice is just incredible. She sees the injustice, she sees the system built on racism, and the desperation of those at the top to keep the hierarchy in place. She knows she is better than all these idiots, but she has to “play the game”. Author Natasha Brown has years of experience in the Finance industry, and I would wager that a lot of her writing is based on real experience. The prose is so clear, and hugely intelligent. I would love to see this adapted for the stage; it would make a great monologue.
Assembly is a quick, immersive read, and so incredibly vital. It is devastating because it’s utterly believable.
112 pages. I read it in one sitting. Not because this was an easy read, or a plot-driven page turner. But it demanded my attention and I had to read it without an interlude, could not step away from the internal world of the narrator as she travels into the dark night of her soul.
Natasha Brown’s Assembly is startling, original, and unsettling.
A young woman has arrived. She has a high power job, a posh life, a boyfriend with a rich heritage. But, cost is too much to bear. She is exhausted.
It’s how the men at work treat her, how strangers come on to her. It’s how she must be in constant control to project the right image. It’s how she is a made an example of success.
Be the best. Work harder, work smarter. Exceed every expectation. But also, be invisible, imperceptible. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.
from Assembly by Natasha Brown
She is a black woman in Britain. And that makes all the difference. A person of color from a previously colonized country. Her very color is a stigma. Her very success makes her a target for white jealously and hate.
She struggles with a life or death question, keeping the news secret from her boyfriend who takes her to his ancestral home and imagines a life together.
Why endure my own dehumanization?
from Assembly by Natasha Brown
As an American, I had not realized how in 2021 British view people from the countries they once dominated and plundered, that ‘keep Britain white’ and ‘go home’ were chants of hate.
Confronted by the truth of one woman’s life, we reevaluate our own story, our own culture, and our own participation in systemic racism.
Readers of the best literary fiction will love this novel.
I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
Natasha Brown's Assembly tells the tale of a black British woman anticipating a trip to her white boyfriend's family estate. The success of the novel is in its harmonious way of having the narrator's thoughts affect the prose's construction. As Brown takes liberty offering fragmented thoughts to best reflect her feelings, we understand that the narrator is suspicious of how she presents herself into being known: outwardly in consideration to her boyfriend and her family or, as she discovers, inwardly with the capabilities of her own body, Brown leads the reader through a compact and effective story that demonstrates skillful execution with some thought provoking tendencies. Assembly is a short novel that contributes to how readers can think about the societal and personal implications in how reading offers accountability and self-reflection.
It is incredible what Natasha Brown was able to do in such little space. For fans of contemporary fragmentary literature, Brown offers a considered dissection, analysis, and indictment of white supremacy as we follow the thoughts of a successful Black woman working in finance in London. There is a level of stakes added to the plot as we follow her mind leading up to a visit to her boyfriend’s parents’ house, which left me reeling by upon closing the book. A must read. I will be shocked if this is not on the Booker longlist.
this book was so smart and thoughtful and nuanced and good. it’s one of those that you finish and you immediately know that you’d get something different out of it upon every re-read. this is perfect for fans of field study and open water!
Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Co. for the ARC.
Wow, this is good.
The narrator, a young professional Black Woman in banking, is out of place in this predominantly White male industry. Yet she has proven herself capable by being twice as good and twice as polite, while others show they have twice as many faces, or throw out twice as much racist abuse. On a trip to her boyfriend’s family estate for a weekend in the country, she is questioning her future.
The writing is spare and clear. The narrator is in her own head throughout. Because of her destination, her work, and an appointment earlier, her thoughts are choppy, but at least they are her own.
This is a perfect explanation of systemic racism, especially toward Black Women. It is set in the UK, but could be set in any country with mostly Whites. It is heartbreaking in its message.
Natasha Brown’s Assembly has been out in the UK since June and I first heard about it in the Booker longlist predictions of UK-based booktubers, bloggers, and bookstagrammers and what I heard intrigued me greatly. I put it on my Booker prediction list based on the strength of those recommendations and, although it didn’t make the list, it definitely made my “must read” list. I am so glad to have found out about it and because it’s a powerful read.
Assembly is a short book—just over 100 pages—but it packs a lot into that compact space. Our unnamed narrator is a Black woman in her thirties who works in the banking sector in London. In descriptions of the book, it’s usually said that it is about her going to a party being held in the country by her white, moneyed boyfriend’s family, but really, that was only part of what the book was about. It is much, much more.
With a lot of flashbacks and cuts between scenes in the office, at doctor’s offices, and with her friend and boyfriend, Assembly addresses a wide range of topics around sexism, classism, xenophobia, and especially, racism. Like Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, it embeds examples of glaring prejudice and countless daily microaggressions into the story, concepts that have been thoughtfully discussed in non-fiction works like Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Me and White Supremacy. Like when I read Such a Fun Age, I wished I’d had a copy of Me and White Supremacy open beside me to be able to make those connections and bring those concepts to life.
Assembly isn’t an easy book, but that’s a good thing. It’s important, especially for white readers, to see the world through the narrator’s eyes, to understand how she experiences the world and to feel the anger, sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness that she feels. Assembly is a powerful book I’ll be recommending widely.
Thanks to Little Brown and Company and NetGalley for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wow! Even though this work is shorter than I like most of my fiction to be there is so much to unpack. This has been receiving a lot of positive buzz and now I see why. Primarily dealing with racism in a very personal and urgent way using stream of consciousness there are also additional topics confronted. The writing was impressive and I felt compelled to read from beginning to end in one sitting. I definitely look forward to the North American release of this much anticipated book. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through netgalley.
Absolutely amazing! I am astounded that this is a debut novel. This is such a tautly written, smartly crafted novel of a Black woman in London who has lived her entire life ascending the career path to heights that others are in awe of, challenging herself to be the absolute best and winning. We see her life and its richness as she is both at work, being promoted to share an important leadership position with a white man, and as she and her boyfriend plan a weekend in the country with his parents at their estate.
The tensions in the book are crisp. We see all the identity challenges- race, class, gender at play with nuance and thoughtfulness. And when something happens to our narrator to make her think about her trajectory, which she had worked so hard that it almost seems predestined, it was truly shocking.
This book deserves all the accolades it's receiving in the UK and I cannot wait to hand it to friends and beg them to read it.
***I* want to thank the publishers for their access to the digital ARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.
This was an interesting and impactful book. It tells the story of a black British woman as she considers her current situation, including her personal relationships and career, what she wants from her future, and how she fits into the various worlds she inhabits. This was an insightful look at several important issues and how the intersection between the personal and the structural shapes people's lived experiences.
Assembly is a heavy little book. Brown writes about class, race, and life in general in such a sharp and biting way that she doesn't need a lot of pages to make an impact. Told through a series of vignette like memories and stories and set over the course of one day, Assembly captures the every day struggles of a black woman working in finance in the UK in a very universal way. The narrator describes situations and emotions that are so personal to her life but yet feel so real and well written it's impossible not to empathize with and relate to her. Brown magnificently writes the feelings of emptiness and hopelessness.
The story felt winding and a bit stream of consciousness which gave the lovely effect of being inside the narrator's mind as she went about it day. It felt unfiltered and raw in the best possible way. I will define revisiting this story.
I adored Assembly and am looking forward to seeing what Natasha Brown writes next.
Thank you to Little Brown and Company and NetGalley for the chance to read this stunning debut. Assembly is mesmerizing in writing style, in challenging the reader to be in the thoughts and experiences of the protagonist, and to be in a way surrounded by experiences of intersectional identity: sexism blended with racism, being of minority status in places with tone deaf attempts at diversity workshops, navigating a white work force while trying to understand heritage. This book blends in these experiences within the daily life of the protagonist at a cross roads in life within a health crisis... what does it mean to have done everything "right" and to still struggle, to still feel unseen in many ways, to be forced to always behave and present herself one way even if it means ignoring who she wants to be?
This is a slim novel but every sentence is powerful, demands attention, and is through provoking and challenging. I read this book in one sitting because I found it hard to stop being in this headspace, it felt as though I could not stop reading as much as it was not possible for the protagonist to stop thinking, questioning, and wondering.
This is the perfect book for book clubs who take on challenging books, Indie book fans, and those looking for books that highlight diverse authors and voices.
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