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The Death of Bunny Munro: a Novel by Nick Cave - A MamaPop Review

The_Death_Bunny_Munro_Nick_Cave Do you know Nick Cave? And if not... what the hell is wrong with you? The man is a prophet and I think you oughta listen. For more than six fifteen twenty-five years, Cave has been a wild-eyed prophet of truth, rage, damnation and love — by and large as a musician of ill-repute and worldwide critical adoration, first with the late and much-lamented Aussie boy band gloom junkies The Birthday Party and then via a long and terrifyingly effective solo career with his own band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

If you've ever seen a photo of Cave, it gives you something of an inkling of who he is as an artist: a collision of dapper and decrepit, where broad lapels and oddly formal suits hint at the crooner's heart that lies - as often as not - buried deep beneath layers of Old Testament-quality torment and torrential waves of darkness, each deeper and more profound than the one that came before. If and when you read articles about him, he's often seen as something akin to an evangelist of the Gothic South fallen to sin and infamy -- a sensibility that flows through his work as strongly as anything you'll find in the intricacies of Faulkner.

Perhaps his greatest song - although, I'll admit, it's near-impossible to choose just one - is The Mercy Seat from his second solo album, Tender Prey. It's a first-person account of a condemned man heading towards his final moments in the electric chair told in ever-mounting tension and horror that twists and coils and wraps itself to an almost unbearable level of intensity before finally imploding in a great, broken wail of collapsed melody and frantic spasms of electricity flying free and wild. And that's just the music: the lyrics keep pace, creating a sickly portrait of a man long past wrestling with the evils he has wrought and ready to face the end: "And in a way I'm yearning to be done with all this measuring of truth/an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth/and anyway I told the truth/and I'm not afraid to die." Springsteen's Nebraska is probably a better-known point of comparison, but it's one that Cave's magnum opus stands toe-to-toe with on every possible level: proud, unflinching, hypnotic and epically powerful.

He writes books, too.

The first one came out in 1989. And the Ass Saw the Angel is one great, warped clusterfuck of a novel — a jaw-dropping conflagration of madness and religious zealotry not so much written as unleashed in staggeringly rich and powerful floodwaters of hyperlexical expurgation: muddied, swirling, teeming with life and deadly intent. Shades of Faulkner? Oh, yes indeed. Warped, twisted, fever-dream Faulkner... but a clear and deserving point of reference in any case.

Twenty years later... Cave is delivering The Death of Bunny Munro. And while the southern gothic trappings of much of his earlier work is absent here, what is still apparent and arresting and altogether, definitively him is that onslaught of rich imagery, sly humor, terrible, bone-deep corruption and sadness at the inevitability of it all that suffuses the novel.

The story revolves around the titular character, a British salesman of women's beauty products whose relentless amorality drives his wife to suicide, drives him and his loving but traumatized son Bunny, Jr. on a pointless drive across Great Britain, and drives the novel itself through its three segments - Cocksman, Salesman, Deadman - toward a conclusion its title lodges in your skull from the moment you begin and which you never, not for a moment, forget is looming somewhere in the distance.

I am not giving anything away by sharing these plot points with you. They are salient and important, but they are also clearly visible on the book jacket and any reviews you will read... and knowing these things only adds to that pervasive sense of inevitability. Bunny is a man hurtling towards doom. He is damned, and he is deserving of all of it. Each moment he breathes, each terrible and inappropriate thing he shares with his son, each woman he tries to seduce and each time he finds himself lost in reverie at the impossibly wonderful and perfect thought of Avril Lavigne's nether regions (this is a recurring theme, actually) only brings him one step closer to that moment of final reckoning.

He is a terrible person. Actually, to paraphrase that which was said about the prophet Otto, calling him terrible would be an insult to terrible people. He is more than morally and spiritually bankrupt; he is a black hole of a human being, drawing others close to him by virtue of the irrevocable gravity of his charm. He drinks like a fish. Smokes like a chimney. Screws anything that moves. Is incapable of guilt. And when his wife kills herself - leaving their adoring young son in his care, and therefore in perpetual jeopardy - his universe spins of its axis and into a new orbit of decay.

As Cave creates this universe, he is by turns hysterically funny and terribly disturbing. Most terrible of all, really, are the scenes with Bunny, Jr., a bright and largely innocent boy who loves his father with a purity and simplicity that is at once recognizable to anyone with a child of their own... and so jarringly contrasted with Bunny's own moral bankruptcy that they lend a strange and awful poignancy to the proceedings. The result is utterly heartbreaking, and Cave's perverse enjoyment of that heartbreak is palpable throughout.

Neil Labute wrote that The Death of Bunny Munro is "a veritable road map of parental pain and deceit that is not just a wonderful read but also a heartbreaking one." And really, in the end, that's what the book is about: a failed husband and father whose failures do nothing to sway those who love him deeply -- or to assuage the pain he inflicts. And Cave does a truly wonderful job of keeping you from getting too comfortable at any point as you read — leaping nimbly from pure Benny Hill-quality comedy to gentle outrage, from the legitimate heartbreak of a son coming to realize just how lost and terrible a man is beloved father truly is, to the abject horror of discovering just how base and unforgivable a creature Bunny Munro is capable of being.

In the words of Cave himself: "It interested me that this man could be redeemed through the love of somebody else, because his son loves him. Even though he is the most despicable of characters on every level--a monster--he is able to inspire love. And to me, that is what the book is about." And he's right. In time, Bunny's escapades will fade into memory. I'll forget the parts that made me laugh, and the parts that made me cringe. (Except for the repeated appearances of Avril Lavigne. Or, um, one specific part of her.) But the purity of Bunny Jr's love, even in the face of all evidence that his father is a corrupt and venal and terrible man? That will stick with me for a long time.







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Comments

Kate

I adore Nick Cave. I saw this at B&N the other day, and I must have it.

ND

And don't forget my fave line from "Mercy Seat." " I hear stories from the chamber/how Christ was born into a manger/and like some ragged stranger, he died upon the cross/and might I say it seems quite fitting in its way/he was a carpenter by trade, or at least that's what I'm told." I mean c'mon

TwoBusy

Oh, absolutely. The entire song is just absurdly smart and moving and terrible.

TwoBusy

Definitely worth checking out. And again: surprisingly funny, when it isn't absolutely heartbreaking.

Palinode

Why does that Mr. Cave have to go around causing trouble with his novels and songs? Right, because he kicks ass. His last couple of albums make younger musicians sound tame and out-of-date.

TwoBusy

If he were to release "From Her To Eternity" today, it would be hailed as groundbreaking and powerful.

And it came out in 1984. NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR. For God's sake... Toto was still releasing albums in 1984. The guy's been blending the transgressive and the beautiful for more than a quarter century.

Pam

You know that I always trust your taste in books. And I rarely trust your taste in music. So you're pushing a book written by a musician. My cells are pulling apart.

ozma

I was a big Nick Cave fan back in the day but totally forgot about him.

This sounds like a kick ass book. I am intrigued. Right now, I am not sure I can handle the reality of someone irredeemable who is loved anyway, suffering, children's suffering and so on. Hits too close to home. But damn, on the other hand it sounds like this book hits such a deep root. Maybe I'll take cruise or something to get up the guts for it. Your review has made it necessary for me to read it at some point. (Excellent, excellent review, by the way.)

TwoBusy

I live to baffle you.

TwoBusy

Thanks! And while it definitely strikes some deep and true chords, I need to re-emphasize that it's also very, very funny at points... when Bunny isn't horrifying or heartbreaking, his blithe vapidity is actually quite amusing. It's a weird mix, but like I said Cave does a great job at keeping you off-balance, never sure of what you're going to find next.

Hope you find yourself on that cruise sooner rather than later...




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