Poetry Shelf celebrates: Susanna Gendall’s The Disinvent Movement

The Disinvent Movement Susanna Gendall, Victoria University Press, 2021

‘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.’

Susanna Grendall’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of journals in Aotearoa, in print and online. The Disinvent Movement is her first book. Presented as a novel, it might also be viewed as poetry or short fiction. The short chapters, the 81 vignettes, create a patchwork-quilt effect, exquisitely stitched pieces that fit together as both absence and arrival. One chapter appeared as a poem on The Spin Off‘s Friday Poem. Susanna (at the time of publication) lives in Wellington and Paris, and the novel bridges both cities, along with time spent in other countries.

The novel sustains the rhythm of the quotidian, almost as though we accompany a bricoleur strolling, collecting, musing, assembling, pausing. There is a plainness at work. There is a knottiness at work. There is the protagonist, both intimate and at a distant. She is in an abusive marriage, but that is held at arm’s link, so we only get squinty looks. She is vignetting her encounters with men (love affairs) that masquerade as encounters with self. She invents the Disinvent Movement as she craves substance, concreteness, attachment. More importantly she yearns to rid (disinvent) the world of unnecessary things (plastic, appliances). She holds so much at arm’s length: her children, her husband, her lovers, her friends. Yet in this swirl of daily existence she is exposing herself. It is poignant and it is unsettling. How do we survive the slam of life and living? Of finding a place in our mayhem world?

The protagonist’s Disinvent Movement acquires straggler fans who don’t necessarily get what disinvent means. Maurice does. Maurice wants to disinvent cars. To black out car windscreens, and to set them all on fire a week later. Mavis however wants to drive her car to pick up horse manure (sometimes). The windscreens get painted black, but such anarchy prompts the protagonist to flee.

She is working in an office not quite under her own name. Nothing feels stable, neither the people close at hand, nor the people at arm’s length. She asks near the end of the book: ‘What was identity except a bit of stitching?’ Indeed. I am reading this and as I read I am unravelling and picking up stitches, admiring patterns, threading yarn and inventing as much as disinventing. Catching the mistakes in living, the craft in living, the self garment in the making.

I read this in one compulsive swallow. It is unlike anything I have read (maybe whiffs of French and Italian writing) and is altogether glorious.

Te Herenga Waka University Press page

Susanna reads and talks about the book with Lynn Freeman RNZ National

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