Bunny Munro is not a good guy, at all, so it is reassuring perhaps that we know from the very outset how judgement falls on him. Nick Cave has created a brutal, misogynistic, philandering, selfish, greedy, addiction-prone father, husband and salesman who is slowly, tremendously, destroying himself. It is glorious and horrible to read; Cave’s mind is a wonderful, scary place full of creation and dirty little details.
Bunny Munro is a horrible character in a fantastic story. In a bit of an awful, modern, Death of a Salesman-type novel, Bunny is struggling with his grip on reality. His wife is dead, Bunny Junior needs him like never before, so he copes the only way he knows how: he hits the road. In a wild journey, this is his judgement.
Cave is a brilliant writer, each line thrumming with rich, relentless prose, creating scenes both grotesque and delightful in their creation; compelling and disgusting. Each line is honed, each word used with purpose and relish. Cave really has a wild, imaginative, dark mind and loves, uses, abuses language.
These scrubbed and scoured lobby-lurkers exude from the pores of their skin an eye-watering miasma of raw alcohol but Bunny doesn’t recognise this as his own private funk is such that people naturally keep their distance. His sour and sodden clothes, the metallic stench of abject terror and the bouquet of his own substantial hangover, form a force field around him. He also looks like a maniac. He feels a real sense of achievement that he has managed to cross the lobby in the manner of biped and not on all-fours.
Bunny is an epic antihero: there is a moment of recognition of the real achievement the dark, dank fog of a hangover can make two-legged walking feel, but as he increasingly whirls himself and his son toward destruction, any sympathy or common-feeling is wrought apart by the needless suffering and reactive anger Bunny seems to insist on gathering around himself.
There is real horror and rawness in this book. Let’s be straight up: in the first chapter, Bunny listlessly comforts his suicidal wife over the phone, easily and compulsively lying, as he drinks and fucks with a prostitute in a hotel on the other side of town. Listening to Kylie Minogue on his drive home, he uses a sample moisturiser to masturbate into a crusty sock – kept especially in the car for this purpose – to arrive home to his wife hanging from a curtain rail. If you can deal with the morality of these details, and watching the chronicle of one man’s judgement after these events, then this is a book for you.
Because this is a good book. I was reading it the whole time knowing that I would recommend it. Cave’s writing is incredible: it is rare the artist who could create such a fully hateable lead and make the story so damn enjoyable. The balance is right: between the repulsive main character and the compulsion of the plot; between detail and nuance; between the horror and the tenderness of the father-son relationship. All this is managed by Cave, and with his raw lyricism style it really is a piece of work to read and relish.
The Death of Bunny Munro is an epic morality tale, thrilling, moving, funny, horrifying. It relishes in its disgustingness, an achievement of creating such a gross character so of this world, in such a compulsive read. Bunny is the worst kind of man, created by a genius writer.