The Disinvent Movement, by Susanna Gendall

To kick off Novellas in November (#NovNov), let’s start with a very interesting novella from New Zealand that nods to the real problem that underlies COP26.  The Disinvent Movement is the debut novel of poet Susanna Gendall, and it started life on The Friday Poem at The Spinoff, (a more intelligent NZ version of BuzzFeed).  Structured in 81 very brief chapters ranging from half a page to a page-and-a-half, at only 144 pages The Disinvent Movement can be read in an afternoon.  These fragments are narrated by an unnamed young woman trying to break free of a toxic marriage and a society whose values she does not share. Plus, she’s been just as complicit as everyone else, as her husband doesn’t hesitate to point out when the climate emergency is declared.  She recognises the link between the personal and the political, and (like too many bruised victims of family violence) she’s internalised his accusations that ‘it’s all her fault’. But he’s not taking any responsibility: …weren’t words like growth, satisfaction and annual yearly profit the words we used to throw around on a weekday? If we didn’t use them, we heard them.  We breathed them in and we breathed them out again. ‘All I’m saying is, you didn’t need to buy all those bottles of water,’ he said, taking a bite out of the kouign-amann (p.49) A Kiwi living in Paris, she has struggled with her identity since childhood, trying to find a way ‘inside’ the system which seems to suit everyone else.  In adulthood, she struggles with going to the supermarket, a place full of different versions of oneself which one avoided as best one could.  But her efforts at sustainable food production fail.  She has dug up soil from the neighbour’s garden to fill tyres for seed-planting but nothing grows. I stood in the queue at the checkout and fantasised about taking the person in front of me’s groceries home — family packs of mince and bottles of bleach, cans of cassoulet, bottles of orange juice, boxes of biscottes and those pots of yoghurt that came seamed together in packs of eight — items that no matter how hard I tried I would never dream of putting in my trolley.  Some things you just couldn’t do. (p.39) With her friend Juliette, she discusses her idea about the Disinvent Movement who was working in image consulting and was worried about how it might affect her business.  Here we see the deadpan humour that delivers laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book.  She gets some Disinvent Yourself  T-shirts, and makes her kids wear them to school.  Their pedantic French teachers tell them that ‘disinvent’ is not a word, and the embarrassed kids disinvent the T-shirts. I’d been the leader of movements before.  I’d once set up a car-wash movement on our street, then there was the Jesus Club, and the following week the Kool Kids Club.  Things moved fast when you were nine. There was no reason why I couldn’t do it again thirty years later.  So far I had three members.  Every week we would disinvent something.  This week it would be plastic.  Next week it would be the aeroplane.  I stood outside the supermarket and handed out flyers, which people kindly refused as they left carrying large packs of bottled water.  They shrugged helplessly at me, indicating that their hands were full — otherwise they would gladly have taken one.  Plus it was thrity-seven degrees outside.  This really wasn’t the ideal time for disinvention.  (p.45) The more closely I read this book, those laugh-out-loud moments seemed more poignant than droll. It is hard not to feel pessimistic about COP26.  Some of the major emitters aren’t even there and countries about to be swamped by rising sea levels aren’t there either.  Here in Australia there is quite rightly a lot of commentary about our embarrassing Prime Minister but the discourse about our shameful record on climate change is primarily about blame-shifting.  For ten years, the electorate has voted for inaction on climate change, and if what I see at the local level is any indication, behavioural change and personal responsibility have a long way to go.  As Gendall’s narrator ruefully admits ‘People threw away so much these days,’ and it’s true.  I was shocked by the goods tossed out during this year’s ‘hard rubbish’ collection.  Near new sofas, dining tables, outdoor furniture, and oceans of children’s plastic toys all crunched up into the compactor and off to the tip.  And don’t get me started on fast fashion… You can find out more about Susanna Gendall from this interview at Read Close. Author: Susanna GendallTitle: The Disinvent MovementCover design by Sarah WilkinsPublisher: Victoria University of Wellington Press, 2021ISBN: 9781776564101, pbk., 144 pagesSource: Personal library, purchased from Fishpond.

The Disinvent Movement, by Susanna Gendall

To kick off Novellas in November (#NovNov), let’s start with a very interesting novella from New Zealand that nods to the real problem that underlies COP26.  The Disinvent Movement is the debut novel of poet Susanna Gendall, and it started life on The Friday Poem at The Spinoff, (a more intelligent NZ version of BuzzFeed).  Structured in 81 very brief chapters ranging from half a page to a page-and-a-half, at only 144 pages The Disinvent Movement can be read in an afternoon.  These fragments are narrated by an unnamed young woman trying to break free of a toxic marriage and a society whose values she does not share.

Plus, she’s been just as complicit as everyone else, as her husband doesn’t hesitate to point out when the climate emergency is declared.  She recognises the link between the personal and the political, and (like too many bruised victims of family violence) she’s internalised his accusations that ‘it’s all her fault’. But he’s not taking any responsibility:

…weren’t words like growth, satisfaction and annual yearly profit the words we used to throw around on a weekday? If we didn’t use them, we heard them.  We breathed them in and we breathed them out again.

‘All I’m saying is, you didn’t need to buy all those bottles of water,’ he said, taking a bite out of the kouign-amann (p.49)

A Kiwi living in Paris, she has struggled with her identity since childhood, trying to find a way ‘inside’ the system which seems to suit everyone else.  In adulthood, she struggles with going to the supermarket, a place full of different versions of oneself which one avoided as best one could.  But her efforts at sustainable food production fail.  She has dug up soil from the neighbour’s garden to fill tyres for seed-planting but nothing grows.

I stood in the queue at the checkout and fantasised about taking the person in front of me’s groceries home — family packs of mince and bottles of bleach, cans of cassoulet, bottles of orange juice, boxes of biscottes and those pots of yoghurt that came seamed together in packs of eight — items that no matter how hard I tried I would never dream of putting in my trolley.  Some things you just couldn’t do. (p.39)

With her friend Juliette, she discusses her idea about the Disinvent Movement who was working in image consulting and was worried about how it might affect her business.  Here we see the deadpan humour that delivers laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book.  She gets some Disinvent Yourself  T-shirts, and makes her kids wear them to school.  Their pedantic French teachers tell them that ‘disinvent’ is not a word, and the embarrassed kids disinvent the T-shirts.

I’d been the leader of movements before.  I’d once set up a car-wash movement on our street, then there was the Jesus Club, and the following week the Kool Kids Club.  Things moved fast when you were nine. There was no reason why I couldn’t do it again thirty years later.  So far I had three members.  Every week we would disinvent something.  This week it would be plastic.  Next week it would be the aeroplane.  I stood outside the supermarket and handed out flyers, which people kindly refused as they left carrying large packs of bottled water.  They shrugged helplessly at me, indicating that their hands were full — otherwise they would gladly have taken one.  Plus it was thrity-seven degrees outside.  This really wasn’t the ideal time for disinvention.  (p.45)

The more closely I read this book, those laugh-out-loud moments seemed more poignant than droll. It is hard not to feel pessimistic about COP26.  Some of the major emitters aren’t even there and countries about to be swamped by rising sea levels aren’t there either.  Here in Australia there is quite rightly a lot of commentary about our embarrassing Prime Minister but the discourse about our shameful record on climate change is primarily about blame-shifting.  For ten years, the electorate has voted for inaction on climate change, and if what I see at the local level is any indication, behavioural change and personal responsibility have a long way to go.  As Gendall’s narrator ruefully admits ‘People threw away so much these days,’ and it’s true.  I was shocked by the goods tossed out during this year’s ‘hard rubbish’ collection.  Near new sofas, dining tables, outdoor furniture, and oceans of children’s plastic toys all crunched up into the compactor and off to the tip.  And don’t get me started on fast fashion…

You can find out more about Susanna Gendall from this interview at Read Close.

Author: Susanna Gendall
Title: The Disinvent Movement
Cover design by Sarah Wilkins
Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781776564101, pbk., 144 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Fishpond.