In Natasha Brown’s “Assembly” an unnamed black woman of Jamaican descent considers her life and her place in the world through a series of vignettes that provide an incisive and erudite exploration of race, misogyny, capitalism and British colonialism.
It is a book — well, novella, really — I admired more than I enjoyed.
In “The Guardian,” Sara Collins suggests Brown’s brevity requires readers ‘to supply the connective tissue necessary to turn [“Assembly”) into narrative.’ Which is fine, and totally admirable. But I had the same problem here that I have with Jenny Offill’s work. Which is, quite simply, that I derive so much enjoyment from authors actually providing that connective tissue. From the narrative; the story beats; the development of characters; the structure of a conventional story.
Without it, without that connective tissue, to me — and I freely admit this is purely a personal bias, a consequence of my own storytelling sensibilities rather than any deficiencies of Brown, Offill or their brethren — such novels read more like loosely connected thoughts.
Brown’s searing snapshot of race in present-day Britain is essential reading. Her most devastating observations are the subtlest; the microaggressions faced every day that I can’t even begin to imagine. Somehow their understatedness here makes the narrator’s experiences sharper.
The themes explored are so important. I just wish Brown had elaborated further and made her narrator a memorable presence. But I guess that’s the point. Her experiences aren’t individual; they’re emblematic.
Number Of Pages: 112
Published: 1st June 2021
Publisher: Penguin UK