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Review: The Death of Bunny Munro

January 30, 2010

Publisher: Canongate

Paperback: 278 pages

Synopsis:

The Death of Bunny Munro recounts the last journey of a salesman in search of a soul. Following the suicide of his wife, Bunny, a door-to-door salesman and lothario, takes his son on a trip along the south coast of England. He is about to discover that his days are numbered. With a daring hellride of a plot The Death of Bunny Munro is also a modern morality tale of sorts, a stylish, furious, funny, truthful and tender account of one man’s descent and judgement. The novel is full of the linguistic verve that has made Cave one of the world’s most respected lyricists. It is his first novel since the publication of his critically acclaimed debut And the Ass Saw the Angel twenty years ago.

Review:

In The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave portrays a man leading himself down a road of destruction destined to end badly. Bunny Munro is not a sympathetic character, in fact, all sympathy falls away when you spend a small amount of time with this prehistoric ass that cannot, and will not keep it in his pants. We gradually come to realise that this is a sad, lonely old man who is past his time. The ending is in stark contrast with the lightness and playfulness of the beginning; it’s a book where you’re with a man slowly dying.

This is a novel that is steeped in sex; not just the act of copulation but also the very idea of it permeates its way through. Bunny does not go a minute without thinking about it, often in slightly graphic detail. He objectifies women, seeing them as mere receptacles; he worships the “vagina” like some orifice he can corrupt. He does some despicable things throughout the novel, and you begin to realise that the so-called “lothario”, who thinks he knows “without arrogance or hubris, more than he knows anything in this world, that he could fuck Georgia in a heartbeat” (p. 118), is a man who perceives to a “ladies man” but is just an idiot and sexual deviant.

Along for the ride is Bunny Jr., a boy who does not quite understand what is happening or why. We see, pretty early on, that there is no hope for Bunny the Elder but for Bunny Jr. there is. The strange thing is he has a more believable characterisation than the main character yet Bunny Jr. feels sort of real, or almost like a proper boy. What I liked about his character was unlike the Hollywood child, he acts like a real nine-year-old boy. He isn’t a mini-adult and so his thoughts and his actions are different, they go off into different areas and directions, and he certainly doesn’t have all the answers. And like most kids, inexplicably, he loves his parents, he “loves his dad. He thinks there is no dad better, cleverer or more capable” (p. 73).

The problem with The Death of Bunny Munro is the characterisation, and in this book, the characters are key. It’s a shame then that Bunny doesn’t live up to his premise and the introduction of his father near the end can’t change him into a three-dimensional character. After a while, his one-note sexual predator vibe gets tired and the situations he enters begin to seem stale. It becomes stagnant quite quickly and you begin to will it to end. It’s not Cave’s writing skills that are at fault because he has a finely tuned ear for writing some pretty dark stuff which can be quite a joy to read. The story just doesn’t have much to say or do and so you often think what is the point of this scene or what the point is exactly. The stand out character is Bunny Jr., a pretty decent portrait of a young boy stuck in a crazy world.

In the end, The Death of Bunny Munro is a confident and self-assured work from a man who writes some of the best lyrics in music, yet there are more flaws than pluses. The Proposition was better, and if you want greatness then listen to any Bad Seeds album.

Verdict:

A readable story that doesn’t live up to the brilliance of Cave’s other work. However, I do hope he doesn’t take twenty years to write his third novel.

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