The Death of Bunny Munro is told from an omniscient perspective, not surprising for a Christian author, as Nick Cave purportedly is. Well, a Christian author in whose hands Christ never was so slippery, so laissez-faire, so let's just see how this plays out. Still, Cave's omniscience gives only two views, that of Bunny Munro, egoist, door-to-door beauty-products salesman and committed wanker, and his nine-year-old son, Bunny Junior, polymath, clairvoyant, sweetheart.
It is so difficult to separate Nick Cave from his enigmatic career that I won't bother. If you haven't had the pleasure, have a listen to Cave's sepulchral voice, the voice of darkness mixed with honey, a voice that no matter how hard it tries for the light, gets trapped, luxuriously, in the mire of badness, misery, recompense. He is most famous for his vocal work with The Bad Seeds, for his duets with PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue, and for the songs that underscore the beautiful film Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders). The forthcoming post-apocalyptic film The Road (John Hillcoat, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel) is scored by Cave.
The Death of Bunny Munro is Cave's second novel; the first was And the Ass Saw the Angel, a novel so visceral in its muckiness, so biblical in cadence, that one fell sway and lived its black velvet rhythms.
Cave is a lover of language. Language minced and raw, language carnivalesque. He squirrels it, tucking away bits here and there, where they otherwise don't belong, but where, in Bunny Munro, they just about break your heart.
"Bunny rarely thought about that first marital miscalculation - what it was that guided his hands inexorably towards their forbidden resting place - but he did often think about the feel of Sabrina Cantrell's backside under the thin crepe skirt, that wonderful contracting of the buttocks, the jump of outraged muscle, before the shit and the fan had their fateful assignation." The outraged muscle, the fateful assignation! Cave makes no secret of the destiny of his protagonist, titling the book as he does.
We are watching the inevitable demise of Bunny, one orgasm at a time, and we don't mind, since he is such a jerk, really. He has no moral compass, reduces every woman down to his sole need: "As Bunny disimagines her clothes he thinks for a fraction of a second of a pile of custard-injected profiteroles, then a wet bag of overripe peaches, but settles on the mental image of her vagina, with its hair and its hole."
Unsettling moments abound, as when Bunny rapes a junkie as she dies, or steals from an old lady, recalling "an alcoholic dream he had had the night before that involved finding a matchbox full of celebrity clitorises - Kate Moss's, Naomi Campbell's, Pamela Anderson's and of course Avril Lavigne's (among others) - and tried unsuccessfully to stab holes in the lid with a blunt knitting needle while the pink peas screamed for air."
Bunny's wife, medically depressed, sick of Bunny's ways, commits suicide, and the story begins. Bunny takes his son on a sex and hand-cream rampage, the boy hugging his encyclopedia in the back seat of Bunny's yellow Fiat Punto, while dad client-hops around Brighton, squeezing sales from disgruntled housewives and seed from his ravaged member.
Bunny is insatiable in his longing, wanton in his downward spiral. We aren't asked to like him, but sometimes we do, in disgust, not because there is anything palatable about him, but because his self-love is so chronic and un-self-aware, so Ur-male, that we feel the fast ticking of our own pity, the winding out of our expectation crescendoing at times into shrill warning, "Don't! For the love of Pete, don't!"
And then Bunny goes and does it.
In this way, he becomes our worst impulse, the deadest, ugliest bit of us enacted, and enacted again. Bunny is looping in a pornographic feeling, hitting refresh ad infinitum on the act to reclaim some tickle of meaning, only to find nothing. His sex is Pavlovian, except without the biscuit; all pant and saliva, no satisfaction. Meanwhile, innocent and pure, the unsullied receptacle, Bunny Junior, sits watch, learning these "adult" ways.
In the midst of Bunny's debauch, everywhere on the news, a maniac is loose. He dresses somewhere between superhero and Satan. He kills women, then celebrates by running through overlit malls, gleeful amid the shrieking zombie shoppers, awakening them, if not to life, then at least to fear.
But when push comes to shove, whose story is this? Surely not that of Bunny, who can't see beyond his next spoil, and can't even really see that with any clarity, or Bunny Junior's. It is Nick Cave's moral hand, puppeteering us to look gravely - at the ugly, at the muck, at the honey, daring us to enter here and wake up.
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels Perfecting and The Nettle Spinner.