A Flat Place

Noreen Masud

A Flat Place
Penguin Books Ltd
United Kingdom
25 May 2023

A Flat Place

Noreen Masud

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. Trapped in this numbness, flatlands feel like a sanctuary: a reality which matches the one inside her head.

In A Flat Place, Noreen strikes out on a pilgrimage around Britain’s flatlands, weaving her impressions of the natural world with poetry, folklore and history, and with recollections of her own early life, to render a startlingly strange, vivid and intimate account of the land beneath her feet. Her British-Pakistani heritage makes her a partial outsider on this land: 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.

Noreen Masud pursues these paradoxes fearlessly across the flat, haunted spaces she loves, grappling with a tangled legacy of suffering and solace, in search of a place she can rest.

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