Pros: Compulsive, blackly funny reading
Cons: Lacking depth
Hilarious and horrifying by turns, The Death of Bunny Munro has Nick Cave doing what he does best - honing language to the sharpness of a butchers' blade before plunging it into his mocking, ironic, self-satirising heart.
The book's central character, Bunny, is a lothario of grotesque proportions, whose libidinous urges drive him onward and downward in a spiralling series of ever more disgraceful episodes, the stunning effrontery of which hold the reader in a wide-eyed thrall.
The ageing Bunny, a door-to-door salesman, sells beauty products to bored housewives on shattered council estates and down-at-heel bungalows across England's south coast.
As his life begins to go tits up, he 'hits the road' in his dilapidated car with his nine-year-old son, driving around the suburbs teaching him how to be the kind of salesman who 'could sell a bicycle to a barracuda’. Or, as Bunny puts it: ‘sell two bicycles to a barracuda!’
Thus Bunny Jnr's education consists, in the main, of many hours sitting in his father's car waiting for him to finalise his variously depraved escapades, while reading an encyclopaedia given to him by his dead mother, and watching as his much-loved but tragic father figure slowly implode.
As a door-to-door salesman, Bunny is not without his idiosyncracies. When one of his seedy sales pitches goes pear-shaped, he stomps into his guffawing customer's bathroom and vents his frustration onher decor:
'"F***ing b*tch," he says and he p***es on her carpet. Then he p***es on ther lilac-coloured walls, then on the rack full of magazines, then on the hand towels and with a grand flourish he rises up on his toes and p***es on her electric toothbrush that sits in a glass next to the basin. Then he zips himself up, opens the door and strides back down the hall, full of a renewed and unobstructed purpose, and says, "All right, do you want to buy any of this sh*t or not?"'
What Cave's character lacks in etiquette, empathy and self-awareness, he more than makes up for in florid displays of maniacal self-confidence. A performer, a charmer, a magnet - his sales career is meteoric in the sense that for all its blazing, spectacular show, it is ultimately plummeting earthward to vanish into a crater of its own making.
There are echoes here of Cave's own meteoric and mercurial musical career - particularly in his recent, character-driven albums such as ‘Grinderman’ and ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ The jarring likeness of the novel’s character to Australian-born musician Cave’s real life came home to me dramatically in early December 2010, with news reports that he had crashed his Jaguar - with his son on board - into a speed camera on a pole in the driving rain of London's south coast, where he now lives. Appearing on the TV news in an amateurish news video wearing outrageous red velour stovepipe trousers and black patent-leather jacket, he seemed so comically akin to his Bunny Munro avatar that one had to wonder whether this crash was not a publicity stunt, given events that envelope the book's tragic character. This is frighteningly close to flesh and bone.
It is not just the laugh-out-loud comic failures of this self-proclaimed cocksman that keep the reader compulsively agog, but rather the breakneck flight of the prose, with its illuminating contemporary vernacular and cunningly observed sketches of the pathos and humanity of a society in the grossly terminal stages of decline.
For some readers - not mentioning any names and quietly thankful that I am posting this review under a pseudonym - the book holds up a mirror, leaving one aghast yet faintly illuminated by the indestructible, scratched, stainless-steel, public toilet nature of the reflection.
Despite its headlong poetic plunge into comic darkness, the one-track mindedness of the novel's two-dimensional characters leave one pining for more and deeper insights into human foibles; for deeper insight into these deepest of our primordial drives: sex and death. While shamelessly entertaining, images of Avril Lavigne’s vagina and buggery with Kylie Minogue in gold hot pants fail to penetrate below a glistening wet surface.
More accessible than Cave's previous work, And The A** Saw The Angel, The Death of Bunny Munro deals with familiar themes - themes and even odd phrases that fans of his music will recognise faster than you can say 'won't someone please touch me'. It's death, redemption, and the eternal question: "How are we to do good in a world such as this?"
Compulsively readable and outrageously beyond the pale, imitative entertainment of much popular fiction, The Death Of Bunny Munro is a a finely machined piston that piledrives its way through the chaos and superficiality of our times.