What it lacks in length — a slim 112 pages — it makes up for in strength. A scathing takedown of the British class system and the country’s views on race, immigration and gender politics, Assembly packs a wallop ... Though impactful, the skeleton story line of Assembly isn’t what makes the book so unshakable. It’s the way Brown expertly captures the narrator’s mental state through an internal dialogue that’s alternately plagued and disgusted by how others perceive her ... Assembly is a searing account of a woman trying to 'be invisible, imperceptible,' even in the face of what most would consider triumph. In truth, her thoughts — and actions — do just the opposite. They signify a rousing, inspired voice demanding to be recognized and heard.
Brilliantly sharp ... Slim but not slight, at 112 pages, it blows apart the flimsily constructed notion of a race-blind meritocracy ... The novel’s final third is exquisite ... Only one puzzle remains unsolved: how a novel so slight can bear such weight.
... fragmented, urgent chapters ... the reader must supply the precipitating question; thus, the reader becomes a kind of participant ... There is occasional levity, too, in Brown's work ... This is brilliant, carefully crafted, bittersweet storytelling, a tale of immense pressure, of a 'career' that must be performed both during and beyond work hours; the career of being the 'object,' an exhausting and endless task.
A short sharp shock of a novel ... [A] virtuosic debut ... To say that Assembly is slight would be an understatement: not only is it barely even novella-sized, it is also organised into vignettes, so that its already meagre portion of language is threaded through what seems comparatively like acres of space. The effect is to require readers to supply the connective tissue necessary to turn it into narrative – text that is sparse on the page expands on consumption; it swells like a sponge in the mind ... Achingly unique ... Brown nudges us, with this merging of form and content, towards an expression of the inexpressible – towards feeling rather than thought, as if we are navigating the collapsing boundaries between the narrator’s consciousness and our own.
Natasha Brown’s Assembly has been heralded as one of the debuts of the year – and it more than lives up to the hype. A spare 100 pages, it is a propulsive, devastating book that charts, with a steady, unflinching eye and deft precision, what it’s like to live as a black British woman in a country still in denial about its colonial past ... The narrator’s personal unravelling is mirrored in Brown’s deconstruction of narrative conventions ... Brown’s voice is entirely her own – and Assembly is a wry, explosive debut from a coruscating new talent. The narrator’s decision around her cancer treatment might have had greater effect were it presented in terms of its everyday consequences as well as in the exhilaratingly clever abstract. Still, this is a heartbreaking novel that offers glimmers of hope with its bold vision for new modes of storytelling.
Within a neat 100 pages, Natasha Brown’s precise, powerful debut novel says more about Britain’s colonial legacy and what it’s like trying to exist within that as a black British woman than most could achieve with three times the space ... Assembly offers a depressing kaleidoscope of the ways racism affects the narrator’s life ... With distilled clarity, Brown conveys just how relentless and exhausting this feels ... Brown’s beautifully crafted brevity is stylistically potent, but can feel like an excuse for not fleshing out her story ... Nonetheless, Assembly signals the arrival of a significant talent, one who brilliantly illuminates the entrenched inequalities of our time.
The narrator of this tightly conceived and distinctively written debut novel is perceptive, precise and unsparing with her words ... Brown’s taut novel arrives at a time of heightened and anxious interest in stories about the realities of anti-Black racism ... Assembly becomes an elegiac examination of a Black woman’s life and an acerbic analysis of Britain’s racial landscape. Brown’s rhythmic, economic prose renders the narrator’s experiences with breathless clarity, especially the steady, gnawing stream of racial and sexual harassment she faces. At only 100 pages, the book moves at an almost dizzying speed. Vignettes are packed with detail and heavy doses of cultural criticism ... At times, Brown struggles to balance the narrative and the criticism, favoring the still interesting but classic analysis over the more complicated and powerful story. Nonetheless, Assembly is a smart novel that takes risks with the questions it raises. I look forward to Brown’s next work, in which she might try — with the same refreshing conviction — to answer them.
It’s a simple, freighted story, but the simplicity of the narrative allows complexity in the form: over barely a hundred pages, broken into prose fragments that have been assembled with both care and mercilessness, Brown presents the world as seen by someone young, gifted and Black – and sick of it all. For a reader to see what she sees, it’s necessary for certain pillars to crumble, even if they’re narrative ones.
Brown includes wisps of scenes, piled together, to create a compelling story about race in England. Brown’s work showcases what Claudia Rankine calls microaggressions with profound intellect and has created a Woolfian novel about them. The endless baderging of being Black in a White corporate world, having to deliver diversity speeches to schoolchildren, being treated as someone with money, but not wealth. The novel works very well ... Race, class and gender are encapsulated in a beautiful way in Assembly ... If Assembly has a flaw, it’s that it is a novel in defiance of story. Our main narrator is not named. She is not fleshed out. She is, in some ways, a device: a symbol to show how racism affects many of this demographic: successful, Black women ... A good novel allows us to question ourselves from every angle and Assembly does this brilliantly.
The story is told in fragments, observing implicit and explicit incidents of racism along with blisteringly eloquent analyses of the slave trade and the Windrush scandal ... Despite the novel’s brevity, Brown covers a lot of ground. Assembly heralds a powerful new voice in British literature.
[A] freshly clarified yet darkly comic style ... As its central character (and the very notion of character) breaks down, so does Assembly – into pithy paragraphs and insights ... Brown covers a lot of this ground in a breathtakingly short space of time (100 pages) and in order to do so it’s no surprise the book degenerates or, rather, devolves to cultural criticism as criticism is one way to tell stories – tell, as in to account for them, to hold them to account – without necessarily having to tell them ... Let’s hope Natasha Brown keeps pushing at the limits: having these thoughts; sharing them.
[A] brilliant debut ... A slim, swiftly moving novel ... In just over a hundred pages, Brown tackles not only race, but class, wealth, and gender disparities, the lingering effects of colonialism, and the limits of language ... This is Brown’s first novel, and it has all the jagged clarity of a shard of broken glass. A piercing meditation on identity and race in contemporary Britain.