A surprising and lyrical journey—part memoir, part nature book—meditating on the meaning of "flatness" and its literary tradition to find ways to understand ourselves and our trauma in one of nature’s most undervalued wonders.
For readers of W. G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn, Amy Liptrot's The Outrun, and Richard Mabey's Nature Cure
Does the concept of "flat" have an undeservedly bad rap? There are centuries’ worth of adoration for rolling hills and dramatic, mountainous landscapes. In contrast, flat landscapes are forgettable and seemingly unworthy of poetic or artistic attention.
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.
Masud combines memoir, nature writing, and literary reflection to explore what can be drawn from these powerful places, and to understand her own experience of complex trauma and post-traumatic stress, as well as grief and loss. A FLAT PLACE is a book that drives to the heart of what it means to experience place — bodily and psychologically — and the healing properties of literature and landscape.
About the Author
Noreen Masud is a Lecturer in Twentieth Century Literature at the University of Bristol, and an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker 2020. Her work focuses on the twentieth century, writing about things which, in one way or another, present variously as absurd, unrevealing, embarrassing or useless. These include aphorisms, flatness, puppets, nonsense, leftovers, earworms, footnotes, rhymes, hymns, surprises, folk songs, colors and superstition.
UK Blurbs and Reviews:
‘A moving, lyrical and frank reflection on place, space and the shifting contours of self. This 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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘Noreen Masud’s a flat place is very much in the Robert Macfarlane tradition of writing about the natural world, and the idea of a book that forgoes peaks and depths is ambitious’ – Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman