“The Death of Bunny Munro” by Nick Cave
Self-destruction is a terrible thing. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.
The hero of this extraordinary novel is the eponymous Bunny. He is a purveyor of facial creams and lotions who lives on the south coast of England. He is married to a woman called Libby, and they have a nine-year-old son, Bunny Junior.
This sounds harmless enough. But Bunny is out of control. He drinks far too much (beer, miniature bottles of Smirnoff, just about anything), smokes endlessly and goes on an occasional cocaine binge. And above all, Bunny is at the mercy of his ever-swelling (literally) sexual appetites, which he seems unable, or unwilling to control.
And, just as the readers learn right at the beginning of Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold, we are informed in the very first sentence of the book that Bunny knows he will die soon. Cave uses the same device as Marquez.
Bunny is aware of his terrible guilt from the start; and once that is acknowledged, it hovers behind and over every humiliation, every debauched and sordid episode in the book. It stands in the corner while Bunny fornicates with a hotel waitress; sits in the front seat as he sadly masturbates in his old car; it watches sadly as he tries vainly to assure his young son that they are both on their way to great riches and success.
This book needs one of those stickers you find on rap CDs, warning you of strong content. Indeed, it is laced with expletives and explicit sexual references, especially to women’s body parts. In his fevered imagination, poor Bunny manages to isolate one particular female part, often attributing it to a particular pop singer, seeking it out as some kind of consolation in moments of despair.
If all of the above has not deterred you, dear reader (yes, there is a great deal of sex in this book, but not of the liberating kind), then I urge you to press on and to have faith. You will find reading this book is like being a passenger in a battered old fast car (driven by Bunny, of course), that swerves and reels and flies along at breakneck speed. It is an emotional, heart-tearing ride that begins when Bunny returns from another sexual escapade to his flat – and his life becomes a kind of surreal pastiche. Our hero never manages to turn himself right side up, again. He is haunted, and he knows it. He is completely off kilter.
What gives this novel its emotional power – and downright pathos – is Bunny Junior. He loves his father and mother. He believes in his Dad. He helps him up off the sidewalk when he falls. He waits patiently (if somewhat anxiously) in the car while Bunny engages in another empty sexual encounter. He laughs at his jokes (which become less frequent). He has an eye infection, but his father keeps forgetting to get him the medication, so he puts up with it. He takes refuge in an encyclopedia, which he memorizes chunks of. He is totally, heartbreakingly loyal, and increasingly protective of his father, trying to save him from an unknown fate – but not knowing how, because he is after all only nine years old.
Mr. Cave conjures up a terrifying atmosphere of dread and doom, and not only through the frequent glimpses into our hero’s fevered mind. The south coast of England, normally a cheerful enough place, is a bleak landscape of dilapidated housing estates, dingy hotels (“the hallway is the color and texture of whale blubber”) and slightly sinister characters selling fish and chips and serving in greasy cafés and performing in cheap ballrooms. Even the attractive coastline is gloomy with mist and dark cloud, and a violent thunderstorm interrupts Bunny’s hallucinations.
Meanwhile, on television there are glimpses of a man, painted devil-red, with horns and a pitchfork, moving through shopping malls, caught on CCTV. There are rumors that the horns are real. There are murders, and sightings of the man-devil move inexorably southwards.
The only place where Bunny, at last, feels happy and content is a fantasy of a swimming pool at Butlin’s Holiday Camp, which brings warm and comforting twelve year-old memories. We all want to be forgiven, and to forgive. And, in the midst of the storm and streaming rain, Bunny confesses, “I just found this world a hard place to be good in.”
Don’t read this too late at night. You might have some very strange dreams.
Author note: In August of this year, Nick Cave was named as the musician most Australians would like to see as Prime Minister. The 52 year-old Cave said his first move as Prime Minister would be to “introduce legislation forcing all Australians to lower their expectations.” Cave was born in a small rural town inVictoria, Australia. His father was an English teacher and his mother a librarian. He sang in the boys’ choir at Wangaratta Cathedral and later in the school choir at a Melbourne boarding school, where he was sent because of disruptive behavior. Cave dropped out of art school and took up music, having formed a rock band at school in 1973. From 1977 to 1984 the band (first called The Boys Next Door and then The Birthday Party in 1980) became a part of the post-punk music scene in Melbourne and played hundreds of live shows. They moved to London and then Berlin, and became known for their hysterical performances, with Cave throwing himself around the stage, developing a cult following in Europe and Australia. Cave’s current band, the Bad Seeds, performs an eclectic and at times strange mix of various styles. He has also done solo tours, and his music has often been used in movie soundtracks – especially the films of German director Wim Wenders.
Cave’s first book, “King Ink,” a collection of lyrics and plays, was published in 1988 and followed by “King Ink II.” While in Berlin, his first novel “And the Ass Saw the Angel” (1989) appeared. “The Death of Bunny Munro” (2009) is his second novel. He has also worked in the theater, and wrote the screenplay for the critically-acclaimed film “The Proposition” (2004). He also appeared in and composed the music for “The Assassination of Jesse James” starring Brad Pitt in 2007. He now lives with his wife, British model Susie Bick, and their twin sons in Brighton and Hove on England’s south coast. For more on this extraordinary man, look him up at http://www.nick-cave.com/
- Nick Cave Announces New Bad Seeds Album (spinner.com)
- Nick Cave & Co. open the debate on love, sex, sexism (omg.yahoo.com)
- Nick Cave in Car Crash (pitchfork.com)
- “Aussies up for largest worldwide literary prize: IMPAC Dublin longlist” and related posts (blogs.crikey.com.au)
- The Future Of Books? iPhone App Brings Text, Audio & Video Together (blogs.sitepoint.com)