Nick Cave novels are rare birds: his last, to my knowledge, was a mud-soaked piece of Southern Gothic depravity from 1989 called And the Ass Saw the Angel
, in itself a brilliant, unhinged piece of writing and in its way a perfect companion piece for Cave's music which at that time was exploiting Leadbelly's romantic outlaw legacy and turning out albums' worth of excellent murder ballads, mined from Mississippi earth, and burnishing the reputations of collaborators as unusual as Polly Harvey and Kylie Minogue in doing so.
If it seemed odd that an Australian should be one of the most dogged and purist perpetuators of the American romantic tradition, that was only until you saw Cave's screenplay, The Proposition
, which renders his scorched-earth Australia like tones and makes a case for a rival tradition.
So The (lonesome?) Death of Bunny Munro, as a title and yea, even unto about half way down the first page, sounded like it would follow the same furrow: a doomed travelling salesman - so much Arthur Miller - in a washed-up hotel room, in Brighton, eviscerating his distant wife.
But did you see the dissonance there? *Brighton*?
I flipped ahead, before purchasing, just to check this was in fact Brighton, Arkansas, or some other such remote, exotic and God-forsaken place. But no, this is good old Brighton, UK, present day. And Bunny Munro is no Willie Loman
. And this is, aside from its wilful and exuberant sordidity, a very different sort of Nick Cave novel from his last one.
As a rock musician, Nick Cave is smarter than your average bear (not hard, admittedly: the playful and extensive vocabulary of his lyrics has always attested to that) and here, Cave's linguistic invention is always on top form. This novel is over written with great zeal: deliberately and enjoyably - a talented writer consciously using a technique for a particular end, as opposed to the more common over-reach of an amateur.
Though its content ranges from icky to downright repulsive, Cave's delivery is witty enough to make it always entertaining and frequently funny. Former collaborator Minogue again makes an appearance, but this time we laugh (gently) at Kylie's expense (literally, she is the butt of the joke), and Cave apologises to her in his afterword, and to Avril Lavigne, who fares far worse at Cave's hands than the Where Are They Now file she's currently inhabiting would say she was entitled to.
So, unless you have a profound respect for Avril Lavigne, form excellent. Not so convinced about the substance, however.
For one thing, Bunny Munro has no plot to speak of: it is a simple downhill slide into oblivion. I fancy Cave might see it as a tragedy (I can't for the life of me work out what other motivation he'd have), but a tragedy requires a flawed hero who refuses a path to redemption at his own cost. There's no such dynamic here. Bunny Munro has no redeeming features; he's irredeemable and (so sayeth the first words of the book), doomed. There's no moral to be heeded here.
Nor are other available characters used to their potential. A murderous sex fiend, dressed as a devil, rampages down the country drawing ever nearer to Brighton, in a clear metaphorical parallel. But, just when it might get interesting (is this Bunny's doppelganger? Is this Bunny's fate? Will they confront each other?) the devil figure drops out of the story.
Bunny's son, Bunny junior, has an eye condition which Bunny wilfully ignores despite the boy's gentle reminders - I guess something statically figurative about that - but the condition gets no worse over the course of the novel. Bunny is dogged by constant interaction with a particular fleet of well-named lorries, but short of making the obvious point that Bunny is destined to be a "Dudman", it isn't clear what the point of these was either.
Basically, this isn't a story, as such. It's an expiration; a ghastly but meaningless descent into oblivion which happens to be queasily enjoyable.
There is some significance to be drawn from the fact that Irvine Welsh, whose novels tend to be of a piece (Filth
particularly), was impressed. If that sort of thing floats your boat (it doesn't mine) you might be also. Otherwise, outside Cave's core fan base, Bunny Munro is likely to be of passing interest only.