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A Flat Place


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About the Author

Noreen Masud is a lecturer in twentieth century literature at the University of Bristol, and an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker. A Flat Place, her first trade book, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award the, the Women's Prize for Non-Fiction, the Jhalak Prize and the Ondaatje Prize.


It would be easy to assume that A Flat Place, dealing as it does in the currency of trauma, racism and exile, is a bleak book. But this memoir is too interested in what it means and how feels to be alive in a landscape to be anything other than arresting and memorable... Masud characterises with sly humour "the proper nature people", with maps in plastic pockets round their necks... In the flatlands of Britain, and in the memories they evoke of the flat places of Pakistan, Masud both finds a way to comprehend her own story and establishes a strong voice that confirms her as a significant chronicler of personal and national experience... A Flat Place is a slim volume, but that belies its expansive scope
*Financial Times*

Masud's moving work of nature writing is grounded in a vital impulse: our need to bring suffering of all kinds out into the light
*New Statesman*

Nature writing can feel a bit samey [but] Noreen Masud offers a powerful antidote . . . A journey into flatness might sound like a tough sell, but this is so worth it. The whole book is zingily fresh
*Sunday Times, 'Best Books of 2023'*

Stark, careful, enlightening
*Guardian, '2023 Summer Reads'*

A domineering father . . . features in Noreen Masud’s lyrical, melancholy A Flat Place, in which the author travels to some of Britain’s starkest landscapes, including Morecambe Bay, Orford Ness and Orkney, while reflecting on themes of exile, heritage and her troubled childhood in Lahore, Pakistan
*Guardian, 'Best Memoirs and Biographies of 2023'*

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 beguiling mix of landscape and memory . . . utterly original and haunting. Her beautiful and tender prose inducts one into a completely new way of seeing the world – a vision that is absorbing, evocative and memorable

A beautifully written and elegantly constructed work that takes the author’s love for an usual kind of landscape and moves it into the most unexpected and thought provoking directions

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'*

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. Stories of violence and memory, colonialism and patriarchy, family and friendship, are interwoven with delicacy and care. A Flat Place 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 'The Feminist Killjoy Handbook'*

Marvellous. A radical, affecting testimony to unbroken spaces, histories, and notions of selves
*Eley Williams, author of 'The Liar’s Dictionary'*

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'*

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'*

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 Tamás, author of 'Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman'*

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 'On Marriage'*

[A] startling memoir . . . It is a story of the feeling you get when the stories we tell ourselves refuse to disclose an essential or epiphanic message. A brave style of refusal that somehow still manages to convey a ringing affirmation
*The Arts Desk*

A beautifully written memoir that looks at how landscapes can help us understand ourselves . . . terrifically precise and lyrical . . . this book might be called a nature memoir: each chapter engages intimately with the natural world, from the Fenlands to the Orkney Islands, and even the stillest, flattest, and quietest revelations are inextricably tied to the environment. But equally, Masud pushes against determined traditions of nature writing. The expansive space of this memoir is an invitation to collapse boundaries and make room for experiences and bodies that are often erased from British history, and in doing so, Masud also voices the realities of this nation's colonial violence
*The Big Issue*

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