SHORTLISTED FOR THE FOLIO PRIZE 2022
SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOLDSMITHS PRIZE 2021
SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKS ARE MY BAG FICTION AWARD 2021
The acclaimed word-of-mouth hit and break-out debut of the year.
Selected as a Book of the Year 2021 by booksellers, writers and readers:
Observer Best Books of 2021
Guardian Books of the Year
The i paper Books of the Year
New Statesman Book of the Year
Bad Form Book of the Year shortlist
Good Housekeeping Best Books of the Year
Goldsmiths Prize shortlist
Books Are My Bag Fiction Award shortlist
Foyles, Daunt Books, Ignota and Libraria ‘Book of the Year’ selection
[ About the Book ]
Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Step out into a world of Go Home vans. Go to Oxbridge, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy a flat. 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?
[ My Review ]
Assembly by Natasha Brown was published June 3rd 2021 by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin) and is described as ‘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.’ A shortlisted nominee for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2022 (winner – The Magician by Colm Tóibín was just announced March 22nd), I was delighted with the opportunity to recently receive a copy of each book nominated to review for you all here on my blog.
Assembly is a short book at only 100 pages but it is a powerful and sharply written debut exploring the dark stain that colonialism left behind and the impact it still has on society today. Narrated through the eyes of a young Black British woman we see life through her lens as she navigates the day-to-day, always conscious of race, always conscious of her supposed positioning in society. As a very successfully independent business woman working in the financial sector she has followed a path laid out for her, one where she could achieve anything but must always keep her head down, avoiding conflict at all cost. Of Jamaican descent and from a working-class background, she now finds herself on the cusp of marriage into a wealthy family of old money. Her future in-laws tolerate her but she will realistically never be ‘one of them’ with such a dramatically different heritage.
“Born here, parents born here, always lived here – still never from here”
In her job she climbs the ladder but is also used as a representative of the black community, from her company’s perspective, as she is sent out to educational settings to give inspirational talks to other youngsters. She is always very much aware of the lack of full acceptance, the tolerance but with it a lack of recognition that she has to accept on a daily basis yet, she did everything right, she has achieved so much in her life to date.
Now, faced with a personal crisis, she adjusts her lens and, with an anniversary party looming at her boyfriend’s family estate, she analyses her life and wonders, really wonders if she can ever fully take control of her own life without having to bend to the desired expectations of others.
“I will be watched, that’s the price of admission. They’ll want to see my reactions to their abundance: polite restraint, concealed outrage, and a base, desirous hunger beneath. I must play this part with a veneer of new-millennial-money coolness; serving up savage witticisms alongside the hors d’œuvre. It’s a fictionalization of who I am, but my engagement transforms the fiction into truth.”
Her life is assembled from carefully constructed and deliberately built pieces, all forming a perfectly imagined whole. But now she starts to dis-assemble and question this exhausting journey she finds herself on with quite profound results.
Assembly is a stripped back read. Short, punchy chapters and succinct sentences create a very forceful narrative that puts British colonialism and modern society under the microscope, highlighting themes of race, identity, misogyny, equality, class and so much more. A study of contemporary culture, Assembly is an original, affecting and potent read, a forceful debut.
[ Bio ]
Natasha Brown has spent a decade working in financial services, after studying Maths at Cambridge University. In 2019 she received a London Writers Award in the literary fiction category. Assembly is her first novel.