I read A Flat Place with mountains at my back and the sea before me.
By the time I’d finished I was paying luminous attention to both. This is a book that could fit many categories or none – that is to say, the most interesting kind of book. Memoir, nature writing, literary criticism, writing about trauma and consolation… Flat landscapes from Lahore to Orford Ness to a local park provide literary academic Noreen Masud with solace and space as she lives with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Flashes of memory throughout the book suggest that her trauma is linked to her controlling father, and feeling permanently unsafe as a child. Masud grew up first in Pakistan, relocating with her sisters to her mother’s home in Fife.
A Flat Place is perfect for anyone who (like me) has enjoyed the writing of Nancy Campbell and Kathleen Jamie. Campbell, Jamie and Masud have become connected in my mind as all three have an amazing capacity to concentrate wholly on nature and then evoke this vivdly for readers. This style of deep focus reminds me of the tiny perfect wood engravings of Eric Ravilious (see https://pallant.org.uk/eric-ravilious-the-master-engraver/ and visit the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne). I love the way all three write about animal bones found on their travels. The power of friendships and chosen families to accept and support is beautifully written about here.
An emotional connection to land is also clear, and echoes Barry Lopez’s findings in his excellent collection of essays Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World. Another area of commonality between these books is the sometime focus on the long effects of colonialism.
Masud is erudite, curious and engaging. There is also an excellent cat in this book.