“I am damned”, thinks Bunny Munro in a sudden moment of self-awareness reserved for those who are soon to die…
Don’t you just love Nick Cave? The Prince of Doom and Gloom delivers on his promise as his protagonist does, in fact, die. This is not a spoiler as he states very clearly from the beginning that Bunny Munro will undoubtedly meet his own grisly fate.
Cave is mostly known for his work as a musician in bands The Bad Seeds, The Birthday Party and Grinderman. However, he is quite the Renaissance man, trying and succeeding at novel writing (this is his second novel) and scriptwriting (Cave wrote the screenplay for the film The Proposition). He’s also collaborated with other artists; most famously, Kylie Minogue. His reputation for creating work that is somewhat dark and depressing stems from an impressive back catalogue of music, art and writing. In this novel, however, Cave appears to have taken a lighter approach, producing what can be described as a black comedy of sorts.
The Death of Bunny Munro is the story of an incorrigible philanderer who finds himself on the road with his young son after the tragic suicide of his wife. Set in England, Bunny Senior and Bunny Junior, travel from one dingy council estate to the next selling beauty products. Bunny Junior sits in the car reading his Encyclopedia Britannica, loading his mind with useless facts, while his father sells magical age-defying lotions to lonely women who typically end up falling for his attempts at seduction.
Cave has constructed an anti-hero in Bunny Senior; full quiff, shirt and tie emblazoned with ridiculous cartoon rabbits, a chain smoker, and a messy drunk with a band of village idiots as friends. He has no sense of responsibility or morals or self-esteem; he is riddled with anxiety and thinks mostly of himself and his next conquest and yet, Cave portrays him in a light that makes his escapades humorous and extracts pity for a character so messed up.
At the core of the story is the father and son relationship. This dynamic is explored at a deeper level with the ever present father of Bunny Munro (Grandpa Munro) waiting in the wings. He is a twisted sick man doomed to die alone. The bitter interactions between Bunny Senior and Grandpa Munro help us understand why he is the way he is and panic replaces pity as an urgent sense of Bunny Junior’s vulnerability is apparent.
The recurring themes of death, forgiveness, redemption and salvation betray Cave’s past interest in Theology. Towards the end, a contrite Bunny Senior “makes peace” with his past in what can only be described as a very public evangelical-type purging of his sins. It would be too easy to have Bunny forgiven and welcomed back into the fold. There’s the obligatory twist to the conclusion.
Cave has done what all great writers do; he’s created a despicable character yet managed to make his readers care what happens to him. Surprisingly, this novel may have you laughing at things you think you shouldn’t find funny at all. Cave’s prose is refreshing to read; he writes with little pretension, telling the story without trying to sound like “a writer.” There is a raw honesty in this novel that will appeal to the humanity in everyone. This is a great read; a difficult book to put down.
Oh, and there’s many a hilarious reference to Kylie’s gold hot pants (worn so spectacularly in the Spinning Around music video).