Publication Date: 27/04/2023 ISBN: 9780241544051 Category:

A Flat Place

Noreen Masud

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication Date: 27/04/2023 ISBN: 9780241544051 Category:


Out of stock



Raw and radical, strange and beguiling – a love letter to Britain’s breathtaking flatlands, from Orford Ness to Orkney, and a reckoning with the painful, hidden histories they contain

‘Expansive, arresting, with sly humour… Masud establishes herself as a significant chronicler of personal and national experience’ Financial Times

‘Noreen Masud fathoms the depths of flat landscapes – sharp, subtle and very moving’ Robert Macfarlane

‘Haunting and generous, beautifully written – this book is a gift’ Preti Taneja

‘A Flat Place reminds us that there is hope in the smallest of gestures’ Sara Ahmed

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 post-traumatic stress disorder: 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 own 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.

Publisher Review

Haunting and generous, beautifully written, revealing and refusing in the best ways – this book is a gift to all who have experienced complex trauma, all who seek the long view, all who crave solitude as we do community, all who see in flat landscapes the chance to reflect on the depths of the self as it heals — Preti Taneja, author of ‘Aftermath’ 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’ 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’ Marvellous. A radical, affecting testimony to unbroken spaces, histories, and notions of selves — Eley Williams, author of ‘The Liar’s Dictionary’ 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’ A beautifully written, important memoir, exploring environmental experience alongside trauma, belonging, prejudice and the self. It’s a profound look at how landscapes can help us understand our inner worlds, and how our relationship with nature and place might make new ways of being possible — Rebecca Tamas, author of ‘Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman’ Psychologically and politically riveting: Noreen Masud dares to poke the bones of the psyche with idiosyncratic brilliance, while she unwraps clingfilm-racism: airtight, watertight, hard to see and vital to name, that sly racism by which experience is exiled — Jay Griffiths, author of ‘Kith’ and ‘Wild’ Like the flat places she so values, Masud ‘refuses to perform beauty in predictable ways’. Mountains are ‘coercive’ in their beauty – likewise a culture that expects survivors of trauma to pinpoint a rupture and overcome it. Noreen Masud invites us to think instead on places without desire – places that are forgiving because they are absorbed in being themselves. She uses them as a balm against a personal trauma that never had a climax, no event that could be scaled like a mountain face in the terrain of therapy. 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’ In this compelling, compassionate account of the aftermath of complex trauma, Noreen Masud sets out across the flatlands that fascinate her, in search of ‘an imperceptible distress in the landscape that you can’t pin down’, reckoning with what it means to connect. Stark and beautiful as the terrain it describes, A Flat Place offers a psychogeography of such trauma, in which flat places become, paradoxically, sites of relief. The book is above all a tribute to (human and animal) friendship, and a testament to the power of forging strange relationship with strange things’ — Emily Berry, author of ‘Stranger, Baby’ Noreen Masud conjures a sensibility that has eluded most – writers hoodwinked into supposing that what’s flat must be empty of significance. But to dwell upon flatness, as Masud does, is to find oneself reoriented. It is to ask who we are and where we are if we no longer take the bait of imagining our lives as a dig or a summit or a horizon — Devorah Baum, author of ‘Feeling Jewish’

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