THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO
By Nick Cave
The Death of Bunny Munro is an action novel. This is so partly by necessity; the protagonist (who has a father also named Bunny Munro, and a son, Bunny Junior) “feels, but does not cogitate.” Like his furry namesake, or literary progenitor Rabbit Angstrom, Bunny is a self-confessed “vagina man,” a cocksman and all-around pussy-hound who can’t keep it down. The story is set in motion with the suicide of Bunny’s long-suffering wife Libby, leaving Bunny, a door-to-door salesman for a cosmetics company, to drag Bunny Junior along with him on his priapic rounds, servicing a list of clients in the Brighton area. What results is a downward spiral of drunken attempts (most of them spectacularly unsuccessful) at debauchery.
But things do happen. They happen emphatically, with dialogue often shouted, braced with obscenities, or given the now familiar double-barreled punctuation: “?!” And they happen with flash and style, particularly through Nick Cave’s ability to imagine a seemingly endless supply of new verbs. Bunny “trombones” his hand, trying to focus on his watch. Staggering drunkenly, he “Tarzans” the curtains in a hotel room. Still drunk, a room “dervishes” around him. A busty young lady “cleavages forward.” Bunny Junior watches a tall man “leporello” from his car. Just for the act of closing a cellphone a wonderful short list can be made out, as Bunny, in turn, “clamshells,” “tongs,” “castanets,” “forceps,” and “lobsters” the device.
Flash and style are Bunny’s own distinctive traits, from his trademark forelock to his regularly tenting animal-print briefs. As I began by noting, there isn’t much else to him. He seems not only without higher mental functioning – being repeatedly likened to a zombie or automaton – but is a virtual a slave to recurrent, unbidden, “goatish visions” of pussy. In particular, celebrity pussy: “glittering and sleek and expensive.” The imagined vaginas of Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne (?!) are his wank material of choice, but in a pinch any “random vagina” will do. Pussy is his God(dess), something he confesses to love beyond all things, beyond life itself, and he frequently drops to his knees to worship it. Which isn’t to say he’s always about to get some.
If all of this sounds like good, dirty fun, it is. It is not, however, the sort of all-out assault on decency that one gets from a writer like Irvine Welsh (who provides one of the blurbs on the dustjacket). There is, for one thing, a rather cheesy spirituality behind it all. Angels (in the form of Libby’s ghost) and demons (in the form of a serial killer in a devil costume and armed with a garden fork) walk the stage, and the final chapters present a hokey and sentimental vision of the afterlife. The play of leitmotifs – like the rhyming of Bunny’s suggestive bunny ears with the horns of the Horned Killer – and the thick sense of fate and doom (“I am damned,” are the novel’s first words) promise a kind of Under the Volcano for the MTV generation . . . if we keep in mind that the MTV generation is now middle-aged. But Cave doesn’t want to go that far. Instead of going straight to hell Bunny even gets to enjoy a kind of redemption courtesy of his feckless affection for Bunny Junior. Some things are still sacred, and inevitable.
Review first published online December 21, 2009.