Meeting is a short novel of just 120 pages, but in it Natasha Brown has managed to condense the doubts about the true meaning of terms as in vogue as diversity, meritocracy, self-improvement, equality. After garnering glowing applause when it was released in Britain in 2021, now comes in Spanish by Anagrama translated by Inga Pelisa and in Catalan by L'Altra editorial with a translation by Maria Arboç Terrades. They are only two of the fifteen languages to which the rights have been sold.
Brown dispenses with a dropper the information about the protagonist, of whom at first it is only known that she is a woman and works in an office. She does not have a name or a defined age –although it is intuited that she is young– nor will she ever have them. Because the main intention of the writer is to let the reader fill in the gaps left by a text in which the narrator's thoughts sometimes swirl haphazardly, as happens in the mind of any person.
The author conceived the book in the way in which the story has finally been shaped. According to her, she explains at the presentation of the novel in Barcelona: "I knew that the narrator's voice would be the common thread. Then I began composing the spaces that I wanted to explore, through which I wanted her to move." From there, the different characters that surround her emerged, her boyfriend, her friend, her co-workers. “I tried to understand her needs, her wants, what was going on, how all of her stories intersected, and what time period the plot should take place in,” she says.
Little by little it is discovered that the protagonist is English, although her family comes from Jamaica. Her story, based on the effort to improve, is that of so many others: parents who work to provide a better life for their children who, in turn, strive to achieve that goal and overcome it. But her race, her gender and the social class from which she comes, show that privileges continue to belong to those who already have everything given. As large as the bank account is, it does not weigh the same as the family lineage in Europe.
"The fact that we don't know much about the narrator is done on purpose with the intention of creating a space where the reader sees himself in those situations and it's believable, an almost three-dimensional feeling," he says. Brown studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge and was drawn to writing when in 2019 she landed a place in the London Writers Awards training programme. "Sometimes there's a lot of mysticism around writing. But getting feedback from other writers and really understanding how writing techniques and fundamentals work, how I could use them and what kind of effect they have helped me gauge what I was trying to do." achieve. It wasn't a matter of magic," he says.
However, she was not new to the world of literature either. She has always been an avid reader and had taught literary criticism when she was a student. "Reading a lot in my spare time and having theoretical notions helped me define what I wanted to write. But in the beginning there was a huge gap between what I considered aesthetically good and what I managed to produce," she says. "Luckily, my experience as a reader helped guide me to the point where I was at least composing sentences correctly and that they conveyed what I wanted," she says.
If an author or author shares certain characteristics with the central character of his work, the label of 'autofiction' appears instantly. And in the case of Reunion, the protagonist is a black British woman in her thirties who works in the financial sector, just like Brown did when she wrote the novel. She affirms, like many other writers who find themselves in this situation, that the book is not about her. "I have tried to keep as wide a space as possible between myself and my protagonist. I don't talk about myself too much because with questions of identity we draw conclusions based on the things we see and assume about each other and I feel that sometimes that can damage a work," he says.
Brown and her protagonist grew up in London, the second next to a cemetery that she contemplated from her flat. This is one of the few details that she offers to the reader, as well as names or descriptions of parts of the city that may be recognizable to those who have been. Also from the suburbs, like the Newbury country house that belongs to her partner's family. A good method to describe the marked class differences in English society.
"The wealth of the family has a fundamental physicality. The house, these lands, the staff, the works of art: all the things that they can touch, inhabit, that give them life. And the genealogy of the family, all the documents , the photographs. Books! A story chosen and carefully preserved”, says the protagonist in the novel. “Imagine growing up surrounded by this. The son, of course, insists that the best things in life are free. All this was, is, free for him."
According to the writer, she used those brushstrokes to evoke a much larger image. And she mentions Roland Barthes's book Myth Today (1957), which deals with the creation of myths in modern societies, as an influence when drawing that imaginary. "Caricature and blurry things can sometimes help, I guess, to show where the larger context is being brought in and how those images are being interpreted. So I really wanted to play with those spaces and see what was the least I could put into the picture. page".
His way of describing scenes and characters has made the cultural press compare his protagonist to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Especially since both books start with the scene of a woman preparing for a party while she does a mental review of the day. But she claims to feel closer to writers like Claudia Rankine or Mohsin Hamid's novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), due to the fragmentation of its structure.
Somehow, Reunion has something of a generational novel to the extent that it picks up the symptom of extreme fatigue of millennials. "I think to a large extent it is. And although the term millennial tends to be used as a synonym for young, the truth is that they are already somewhat older. And they are questioning how they are going to get out of that early phase of adulthood, what elements of life are working and how they should or would like to change them in the future. I think those questions and ideas are present in many of the books of this generation, "he says.
Precisely, those doubts, that exhaustion and fear determine the day to day of the narrator, who fights against the idea of integration that is constantly suggested/forced by the society in which she lives. "In the best of cases: these girls grow up, integrate, get jobs and pour money in abundance into a government that never stops telling them that they are not British. That this is not their home," reflects the narrator, who in many times he goes to colleges and universities to give motivational talks about the advantages of studying and working in large corporations.
The protagonist does not know where the point is where she can allow herself to stop, stop the inertia that drives her to keep going up and achieve the goals that she is supposed to meet or yearn for. That is why, when life puts before her the possibility of making a decisive decision, she chooses to do nothing. "I think the character is intentionally a blank slate. We don't get a lot of emotion from her. We never see her raise her voice or even get really frustrated. And I know it goes against what people want a lot of times, because when there's a injustice that grows, then comes the climax and the release. But I wanted to keep the discomfort, "says Brown.