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The Death of Bunny Munro

by Nick Cave

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Faber & Faber Inc

Nick Cave has a deeply divided public persona. As a singer, songwriter, performer and all around man of the arts, he’s always contained within himself a sharp dichotomy between the ranting, vulgar madman and the mournful balladeer. His new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, largely sticks to the former tendency to chaotic, unnerving effect. Make no mistake; Cave’s novel (his second since 1989’s And the Ass Saw the Angel) is a disquieting, almost comically grimy affair, so full of sex and licentiousness that it should practically come with a protective latex slipcover.

Chronicling the travails of the titular character and his young son (also named Bunny) after the suicide of his wife, The Death of Bunny Munro is divided into three sections, “Cocksman” “Salesman” and “Deadman” which pretty much entirely sums up its themes. The elder Bunny makes his wages as a sleazy door to door cosmetics salesman- not coincidentally, of the pulp-novel variety- always trying to get a leg over his customers. His son, by contrast, is withdrawn and unhealthy, with a (literally) encyclopedic memory and an unwavering worship of his father, despite being constantly and graphically exposed to his sexual and chemical excesses. As the duo travel the Southern UK, a satanic serial killer is making his way to their hometown of Brighton and Bunny deals with premonitions of death by ignoring them in a soup of sordidness and the slow loss of his once considerable charm. I don’t think I’m throwing out a spoiler to mention how the whole thing ends- it’s right there in the title.

As an exercise in vulgarity, The Death of Bunny Munro is a masterpiece, so full of ridiculously explicit sexual detail that it continually drifts over-the-top. Of course, this is coming from a man who generally sings about babies born without brains and “No Pussy Blues,” so that’s not a shock. While the descriptions of Bunny’s sexual escapades begin to grow tiresome by about the halfway mark, his own slowly breaking awareness of the same manages to keep it from ever growing quite gratuitous. Still, passages like “Bunny smiles, then drapes River’s canary yellow panties over his face and sucks on the crotch and happily jerks off, then falls into a deep and uncluttered sleep, thinking, ‘Easy, no problem, vagina, vagina’” can only repeat so many times before becoming repetitive.

Fortunately, there’s an actual foundation of melancholy and loss under all the erections and borderline rape. The shadow of Bunny’s wife seems to follow the pair everywhere (although Cave’s typically rambling prose makes it difficult to tell what’s literal and what’s fantasy) and the sheer level of the younger Bunny’s neglect quickly grows painful. By the time, his grandfather, Bunny Munro the first and greatest cocksman of them all appears, their entire existences have sunk to a confused degradation that’s as pitiful as it is loathsome.

As a novel, The Death of Bunny Munro carries nearly as well- the repetition, although largely well orchestrated, becomes almost rhythmic until it breaks down entirely. A redemptive fantasy (well, probably) sequence near the end of the novel is both heartbreaking and revelatory of the depth of Bunny’s squalor, somehow bringing sympathy to a character loathsome in every characteristic. The serial killer subplot never gels quite as firmly as the rest of the novel, straddling an uncomfortable line between blatantly symbolic and frustratingly vague. In Cave’s work, the line between reality and unreality has always been blurred, and no less so than in this.

Although it’s always tempting to read autobiography into every artistic work, it’s worth noting that Cave’s own father died while he himself was a boy. I can’t imagine what demons may have been exorcised through this work (or through his last-minute authorial inclusion, a risky decision at best) or if it’s only a massive coincidence, but one thing’s for sure; Cave’s novelistic skills are not yet on par with his songwriting, but they’re getting there.

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