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Unpleasant, disturbing... yet unputdownable
on 3 December 2009
Bunny Munro is one bad dude. A cheating, unscrupulous salesman of beauty products to bored and lonely housewives, Bunny has his world turned topsy-turvy when his long-suffering wife suddenly dies. After a brief period of uncertainty over his future and that of his young son, Bunny decides to carry on doing the only thing he knows how and get back on the road to ply his wares. However, this decision does little for Bunny's sanity as a series of increasingly bizarre experiences befalls the loathsome lothario; his son, Bunny Junior, meanwhile, with the aid of his trusty encyclopedia, attempts to make sense of it all from the passenger seat of his dad's car...
The mind behind this tale is Nick Cave, best known as a recording artist and musician, whose career spans over 30 years, from his early outfit The Birthday Party, through the Bad Seeds, to his most recent incarnation, Grinderman. Let's not forget his numerous contributions to the world of film and cinema, either - as both a writer of soundtracks (The Road) and screenplays (The Proposition) as well as the odd cameo performance (The Assassination of Jesse James...). Or indeed the fact that this is actually his second novel, following And The Ass Saw The Angel, which was published back in 1989. It would be nigh on impossible to sum up such a diverse - and let's be honest, staggeringly impressive - body of work in just a few words, but if there's one term that characterizes Cave's artistic output (besides "unique") it's haunting. Because, whether it's in the lyrics he's written for any one of his aforementioned bands, or the stark soundscapes he creates for the equally barren movies he attaches his name to, Cave succeeds in consistently conjuring up images that linger in the mind long after the CD has stopped, or the film has ended. For better or worse, the same can be said about his prose, too.
Reading Nick Cave requires nerves of steel and a strong stomach. Mixing sex and sordidness, death and destruction, as well as humour and humanity, this is not an easy dish to digest - certainly not in one sitting. Essentially a tale of one man's descent into his own, self-imposed hell, The Death of Bunny Munro at times recalls the likes of Hubert Selby Jr's The Demon, but Cave has a style and a vision all of his own. There are some simply masterful strokes of the pen within this novel, but they are interspersed with stabs of almost comedic crudeness, making it at once a compelling and repulsive read. Bunny's twin obsession with real-life pop stars Avril Lavigne and Kylie Minogue, for example, is so dogged, so unrelenting, and so BASE, that it borders on harassment on the author's part - and yet it's one of the book's funniest motifs. (In fact, Cave makes apologies to both Lavigne and Minogue in his Acknowledgements). The unflinching narrative, meanwhile, which skillfully straddles the blurred line between reality and fantasy, keeps the reader on his toes right up until the final pages.
It's safe to say that this is a novel guaranteed to turn off as many readers as it engages. But once you've accepted - to quote one of Bunny's many conquests - that things are only going to get worse, really, the only option is to read on and bear witness to Bunny's inevitable demise. Thankfully, there are frequent moments of tenderness throughout the book - especially in the passages concerning Bunny Junior and his memories of his mother, and Cave's portrayal of the loyal and loving son gives the story a much needed measure of pathos.