This is a fabulous book that tries to step out of the confining and controlling aspects of certain stories.
A young black woman, whose parents are Windrush survivors, describes her upwardly mobile education and career from a working class background into Cambridge, banking and a boyfriend in the political, elite British classes. The ascent is hard work and it has costs, costs that impair her health, freedom and conscience.
The story explores the lead up to a weekend at her boyfriend’s family seat alongside a doctor’s appointment in which she discovers she has cancer. No one will let her escape the blackness she embodies within and without. She longs for freedom, but it will cost her life.
An incredibly powerful, eloquent book that precisely describes what it means to have to counter descrimination with every breath, Assembly is an immensely compelling read that forces attention upon the ongoing racism and divisions within British society. It’s brilliant and should be immediately put on all secondary school reading lists. That it attempts to engage in a discussion about defying narrative tropes makes it even more exciting to me.
It is called Assembly, but an assembly of what? True, the protagonist is being asked to a wedding anniversary party, an assembly of people made up of her boyfriend’s family and well-to-do friends at which she expects to feel as if she doesn’t belong – so the title is asking about how we are assumed to belong to certain groups and not to others, to consider the exclusivity of certain assemblies of people and what it takes to be tolerated within them – but there are so many more meanings in this fabulous title. Is the novel asking us to try to define what parts make its protagonist? Or is it also about what makes a country? How should we come together in our identities both personal and national? Perhaps the answer is that we are things of many parts, pasts and stories and that to work, to function, we need to recognise and value all of our components. There is a sharp mind at work behind this gripping tale.
Assembly is a book I will definitely return to. I urge you to go and buy it right away. I can’t wait to read what Natasha Brown writes next.
I was meant to be reviewing Everybody by Olivia Laing, but I got carried away with Assembly and will review Everybody next.