For her first novel, Natasha Brown assembles her book like a patchwork. A heavy first work, but with a canvas that is sometimes too disjointed.

It is a polysemous title that welcomes the reader·English speaking ice creams: Assembly in vo, means both “the assembly” and “the assembly”. The assembly is that which meets for a small party. informal[le] at the parents of the narrator’s boyfriend. An assembly from which she feels excluded, not having the cultural capital of this rich and old British family. The assembly is the patchwork of moments described and juxtaposed in this short novel of a hundred pages. So many fragments, which, put end to end, form the picture of a woman bruised by racism and contempt.

The narrator works in a big bank, which allows her, as her boyfriend likes to remind her, to be ” fart of money “. He already has money, but it’s an old money, for which he didn’t have to work, a more noble money. He is ” fortune “. A fortune acquired at the time of slavery, underlines the narrator, at the time when the British Empire was nicknamed the empire where the sun never sets. From a family originally from Jamaica, a country in which she has never set foot, the narrator undergoes several layers of violence. Between racism, misogyny and problems of harassment or rape at work, we understand by keys all the oppressions she suffers.

“Born here, of parents born here, never lived anywhere else – yet, never from here. Their culture becomes a parody on my own body. »

Natasha Brown, Assembly

bank tale

But it is perhaps this accumulation of suggestive touches that does the novel a disservice. The narrator never utters a single word throughout the hundred pages that constitute it. Being a banker (like the author herself), the narrator nevertheless admits having ” a legitimacy conferred by a high-sounding title in a storefront company “. But because this legitimacy is not yet fully acquired, it is not possible for him to say certain things out loud. Because its legitimacy is fragile, material and never symbolic. Her colleagues like to suspect her of having obtained her place thanks to the quota. And her boyfriend makes her understand that she has financial capital, but not cultural. In the first part of the text, jerky images follow one another. Are these days at the office present or memories? These moments or memories by jolts hint at a trauma. In the second part, it is another form of trauma that the narrator has to face. While waiting for the party, all the (un)conscious racism of the beautiful family spoils this beautiful picture of British perfection.

“The mother’s ambivalence was more classic. […] The future, children and purity – not in a crass racial sense, no. Of course not. It was a question of a purity of lineage, of history: of customs and shared cultural sensitivities. »

Natasha Brown, Assembly

Praised upon its release in the UK, Assembly enjoyed great success across the Channel. This very politically charged first book, however, lacks incarnation. Political reflections take precedence over history, which is quite poor. Although its form is original, it paradoxically becomes its weakness as the plot progresses. Let’s hope, however, that Natasha Brown will follow in her compatriot’s footsteps Zadie Smith for success, or it will go its own way.

Assembly by Natasha Brown translated from English by Jakuta Alikavazovic, Grasset, 2023, 160 p., €17

“Assembly” – Patchwork – Maze.fr