> Skip to content
Play sample
  • Published: 3 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241993347
  • Imprint: Penguin Audio
  • Format: Audio Download


A blistering and unignorable literary debut about Blackness and whiteness in modern Britain

'Generations of sacrifice; hard work and harder living. So much suffered, so much forfeited, for this opportunity. For my life. My choice.'

Over the course of twenty-four hours, the whip-smart young narrator of Assembly receives a cancer diagnosis, decides not to tell her posh white boyfriend, accepts a long-awaited promotion from her toxic boss - and wrestles with the question of her own existence. She has spent her twenties climbing against the current, overcoming adversity, being twice as good, always reaching for that glass ceiling. But what has it all been for? And why should she fight for a life that has never truly been hers? Via a lacerating critique of race, Empire, and privilege in modern Britain, Natasha Brown sets out a breathtakingly bold and timely provocation about what it means to be truly safe and truly free.

  • Published: 3 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241993347
  • Imprint: Penguin Audio
  • Format: Audio Download

Praise for Assembly

Diamond-sharp, timely and urgent... Written in a distilled, minimalist prose, Assembly is illuminating on everything from micro aggressions in the workplace, to the reality of living in the "hostile environment", to the legacy of British colonialism

Observer, Best Debuts of 2021

Assembly is brilliant. Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway meets Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Natasha Brown's ability to slide between the tiniest, most telling detail and the edifice of history, the assemblage of so many lives in so many times and places, is as breathtakingly graceful as it is mercilessly true

Olivia Sudjic, author of 'Asylum Road'

Natasha Brown's exquisite prose, daring structure and understated elegance are utterly captivating. She is a stunning new writer

Bernardine Evaristo, Booker Prize winning author of 'Girl, Woman, Other'

Bold and original, with a cool intelligence, and so very truthful about the colonialist structure of British society: how it has poisoned even our language, making its necessary dismantling almost the stuff of dreams. I take hope from Assembly, not just for our literature but also for our slow awakening

Diana Evans, author of 'Ordinary People'

Deft, essential, and a novel of poetic consideration, Assembly holds (the Black-British) identity in its hands, examining it until it becomes both truer and stranger - a question more than an answer. I nodded, I mhmmed, I sighed (and laughed knowingly, bitterly)

Rachel Long, Folio Prize-shortlisted author of 'My Darling From the Lions'

A piercing, cautionary tale about the costs of assimilating into a society still in denial about its colonial past. Brown writes with the deftness and insight of a poet

Mary Jean Chan, author of 'Flèche'

Assembly is an astonishing work. Formally innovative, as beautiful as it is coolly devastating, urgent and utterly precise on what it means to be alive now

Sophie Mackintosh, author of 'The Water Cure'

Bold, elegant, and all the more powerful for its brevity, Assembly captures the sickening weightlessness which a Black British woman, who has been obedient to and complicit with the capitalist system, experiences as she makes life-changing decisions under the pressure of the hegemony

Paul Mendez, author of 'Rainbow Milk'

I read it compulsively in a single sitting. Assembly expertly draws out the difficulties of assembling a coherent self in the face of myriad structural oppressions. Casting a wry look at faded aristocrats, financial insiders and smug liberals, Natasha Brown takes the conventional tics of the English novel - the repressed emotion and clipped speech - and drains away the nostalgia. What's left is something hard and true

Will Harris, author of 'Mixed Race Superman' and 'Rendang'

In this excoriating indictment of the white supremacy underpinning the office space, Natasha Brown shows us the triple bind under which Black British Women live. How can there be wholeness in a society which demands so often that Black women melt parts of themselves down so that the machinery can shape them anew? I have scarcely read a work of fiction which confronts me so clearly and viscerally with the nature of injustice in our contemporary moment. This is an important work from a writer I hope we'll be hearing from for a long, long time

Kayo Chingonyi, author of 'A Blood Condition'

Set over 24 hours as an unnamed Black British woman prepares to attend a garden party hosted by her boyfriend's wealthy parents. With a clear eye she assesses her experience of corporate culture with its embedded racism, her awful boss, the myth of true social mobility... A short but exceptionally powerful novel from a gifted new writer

Bookseller (Editor's Choice pick)

This marvel of a novel manages to say all there is to say about Britain today in the most precise, poetic prose and within the story of one complicated, compelling woman. Formally thrilling, politically captivating, endlessly absorbing... I will never forget where I was when I read it, how I felt at the start of it and by the end - it takes you on a complete carousel of a life lived both in dread and in defiance. Superb.

Sabrina Mahfouz, poet & playwright, 'A History of Water in the Middle East'

This is a stunning achievement of compressed narrative and fearless articulation

Publisher's Weekly

One of the most talked-about debuts of the year . . . you'll read it in one sitting

Sunday Times Style

A quiet, measured call to revolution. It's about everything that has changed and still needs to change, socially, historically, politically, personally... Its impact is massive; it strikes me as the kind of book that sits on the faultline between a before and an after. I could use words like 'elegant' and 'brilliantly judged' and literary antecedents such as Katherine Mansfield/Toni Morrison/Claudia Rankine. But it's simpler than that. I'm full of the hope, on reading it, that this is the kind of book that doesn't just mark the moment things change, but also makes that change possible

Ali Smith, author of 'How to be both' and 'Summer'

Like the fictional companion to Jamaica Kincaid's nonfiction masterpiece A Small Place... A book like a finely honed scalpel - marking a new and electrifying dawn

Elaine Castillo, author of 'America is Not the Heart'

A powerhouse of a book


Incredible. [Assembly] moves the English novel on. Slim book, massive importance

Max Porter, author of 'Grief is the Thing With Feathers'

It more than lives up to the hype. Propulsive, devastating, unflinching and deft... This is a heartbreaking novel that offers glimmers of hope with its bold vision for new modes of storytelling... Brown's voice is entirely her own - and Assembly is a wry, explosive debut from a coruscating new talent


A nuanced, form-redefining exploration on class, work, gender and race

Harper's Bazaar

Across 100 lean pages, Brown deftly handles a gigantic literary heritage... Her style rivals the best contemporary modernists, like Eimear McBride and Rachel Cusk; innocuous or obscure on a first reading, punching on a second... Assembly is only the start

Daily Telegraph

There's something of Isherwood in Brown's spare, illuminating prose... A series of jagged-edged shards that when accumulated form an unhappy mirror in which modern Britain might examine itself

Literary Review

Mind-bending and utterly original. It's like Thomas Bernhard in the key of Rachel Cusk but about black subjectivity

Brandon Taylor, author of 'Real Life'

Bold, spare, agonisingly well-observed. An impressive debut


One of the buzziest debuts of the summer


Assembly fulfils, with exquisite precision, Virginia Woolf's exhortation to "record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall... [It] calls to mind Frantz Fanon's work on the psychic ruptures caused by the experience of being colonised, or W. E. B. Du Bois's idea of double consciousness. Assembly is the kind of novel we might have got if Woolf had collaborated with Fanon... Brown nudges us 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


A razor-sharp debut... This powerful short novel suggests meaningful discussion of race is all but impossible if imperialism's historical violence remains taboo

Daily Mail

Daring and distilled... A hauntingly accurate novel about the stories we construct for ourselves and others... A completely captivating read you won't be able to put down


Thrilling... Brown gets straight to the point. With delivery as crisp and biting into an apple, she short-circuits expectation... This is [the narrator's] story, and she will tell it how she wishes, unpicking convention and form. Like The Drivers' Seat by Muriel Spark, it's thrilling to see a protagonist opting out and going her own way


Excoriating, unstoppable... 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

London Review of Books

Beguiling and beautifully written, this is the work of an author with a bright future


Coruscating originality, emotional potency, astonishing artistic vim... This signals the arrival of a truly breathtaking literary voice... A scintillating tour de force

Yorkshire Times

In just 100 pages Natasha Brown delivers a body blow of a book. Assembly is extraordinary, each word weighed, each detail meticulously crafted... Brown is mercilessly clear-eyed in her delineation of how British culture is also "assembled" - its history whitewashed and arguing against it near-impossible when "the only tool of expression is the language of this place". Yet she wields that language like a weapon and hits her mark again and again with devastating elegance

The Times

Fierce and accomplished, Assembly interrogates the high cost of surviving in a system designed to exclude you


Coiled and charged, a small shockwave... Sometimes you come across a short novel of such compressed intensity that you wonder why anyone would bother reading longer narratives... [Assembly] casts a huge shadow


An extraordinary book, and a compelling read that had me not only gripped but immediately determined to listen again... Highly recommended

Financial Times on 'Assembly' in audiobook

Stunningly good

Elizabeth Day, presenter of the 'How to Fail' podcast

Brilliantly sharp and curiously Alice-like... It centres on a gifted and driven young Black woman navigating a topsy-turvy and increasingly maddening modern Britain... Her indictment is forensic, clear, elegant, a prose-polished looking glass held up to her not-so-post-colonial nation. Only one puzzle remains unsolved: how a novel so slight can bear such weight

Times Literary Supplement

'As utterly, urgently brilliant as everyone has said. A needle driven directly into the sclerotic heart of contemporary Britain. Beautiful proof that you don't need to write a long book, just a good book'

Rebecca Tamas, author of 'Witch'

Stunning, blisteringly eloquent... Assembly heralds a powerful new voice in British literature

The Sunday Times

I was blown away by Assembly, an astonishing book that forces us to see what's underpinning absolutely everything

Lauren Elkin, author of 'Flaneuse'

Tightly conceived and distinctively written, perceptive, precise and unsparing... 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

New York Times

Searing... A rousing, inspired voice demanding to be recognized and heard

Washington Post

Every line of this electrifying debut novel pulses with canny social critique

Oprah Daily

Devastatingly eloquent, bold, poignant

Shelf Awareness

An achievement that will leave you wondering just how it's possible that this is only the author's very first work... Brown packs so much commentary and insight inside of every single sentence... Original and startling all at once. After reading Assembly, I cannot wait to see what Natasha Brown does next


A debut novel as slender and deadly as an adder

Los Angeles Times

A brilliantly compressed, existentially daring study of a high-flying Black woman negotiating the British establishment

Guardian, 'Best Fiction of 2021', Justine Jordan

Related titles