A Flat Place (2023)
Published by Hamish Hamilton in April 2023
'A Flat Place cuts new ground, mixing literary criticism, decolonial history, and boldly anti-Romantic 'nature' writing, in searing prose as sad as it is funny, to confront the noninnocence of writing 'nature' and place. This is an important and original interruption of the so-called 'nature cure' -- Abi Andrews, author of The Word for Woman is Wilderness
'A moving, lyrical and frank reflection on place, space and the shifting contours of self. This is a new kind of migration narrative, one that finds stories in both stillness and movement, in flatness and undulation' -- Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire
‘In this profound and moving book, Noreen Masud shows how what has been overlooked as flat and empty is alive with significance. The writing is not only achingly beautiful, it conveys in its own rhythm how small undulations give nuance and form. We learn how complex trauma gets everywhere, affects everything; who one is, how one is, with whom one is. This is a lovingly crafted work in which stories of violence and memory, colonialism and patriarchy, family and friendship, are as layered as a landscape. A Flat Place also teaches us how the struggle some of us have to be in the world can be how we craft different worlds. It reminds us that there is hope in the smallest of gestures’ -- Sara Ahmed, author of Living A Feminist Life
Noreen Masud has always loved flatlands. Her earliest memory is of a wide, flat field glimpsed from the back seat of her father's car in Lahore. As an adult in Britain she has discovered many more flat landscapes to love: Orford Ness, the Cambridgeshire Fens, Morecambe Bay, Orkney. These bare, haunted expanses remind her of the flat place inside herself: the place created by trauma.
Noreen suffers from complex PTSD: the product of a profoundly disrupted and unstable childhood. It flattens her emotions, blanks out parts of her memory, and colours her world with anxiety. Undertaking a pilgrimage around Britain's flatlands, seeking solace and belonging, she weaves her impressions of the natural world with poetry, folklore and history, and with recollections of her early life.
Noreen's British-Pakistani heritage makes her a partial outsider in these landscapes: both coloniser and colonised, inheritor and dispossessed. Here violence lies beneath the fantasy of pastoral innocence, and histories of harm are interwoven with nature's power to heal. Here, as in her own family history, are many stories that resist the telling. She pursues these paradoxes fearlessly across the flat, haunted spaces she loves, offering a startlingly strange, vivid and intimate account of the land beneath her feet.
'Flat lands are overlooked, the bearers of our inattention. Moors, deserts, floodplains, fens alike have too often been effaced to the point of invisibility. In A Flat Place, Noreen Masud makes brilliantly good this lack; her book fathoms the depths of such landscapes, and their curious abilities to archive and erase, to unsettle and to console. In her prose, terrains of the spirit and the earth begin to slip over one another, like acetate sheets seeking a match. Sharply, subtly and very movingly, Masud thinks with places, seeking as she does to find a way back into, and then out of, the traumas of her early life' -- Robert Macfarlane, author of The Old Ways