The Death of Bunny Munro

The Death of Bunny Munro was written by Nick Cave, the singer/songwriter/musician who most people know via his band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I suppose that we shouldn't be surprised when certain songwriters turn out to be excellent novel writers -- after all, being a songwriter essentially means one is a type of poet. The type of writing that's being done in a novel, however, is quite different, and I found that my favorite moments of The Death of Bunny Munro weren't necessarily plot-driven, but rather, they were simple observations crafted in beautiful language that reminded me of Nick Cave's poetic talent. Of course, I was given the audiobook of Bunny Munro as a gift and I highly recommend that if you are going to read this book, you should purchase the audiobook version. Not only will you have the supreme delight of hearing Nick Cave read his own work, but he's also added some small sound effects and music that do a great deal in creating tensions and highlighting the particularly surreal parts.

Bunny Munro is a British salesman who peddles high quality beauty products and lotions door-to-door by appointment. He is also a middle-aged seducer of anything vaguely female. Bunny has a wife and a nine-year-old son named Bunny Jr. waiting at home, which is in Brighton, but he is frequently on the road. As the book opens, Bunny is on the phone with his wife, explaining that he'll be home tomorrow morning, which is as soon as he can possibly be there. This is a lie. He is in Brighton motel with a prostitute, across town from his family, and it is this choice to not go home that is the catalyst for all events that follow. Of course, even if he had gone home this time, one gets the feeling that things would have turned out this way sooner or later.

When Bunny does get home in the morning, he finds that his wife has committed suicide, an event she clearly planned for, as she had already purchased suits for her husband and son to wear to her funeral. The novel deals with the aftermath of her suicide as Bunny and Bunny Jr. try to carry on... which mostly consists of Bunny Munro losing his grip on life/his sanity in a steady downward spiral (after all, the book is called The Death of Bunny Munro) and poor Bunny Jr. trying to hold on. Once they've gotten through the funeral (and the funeral "after party" with Bunny's sleazy friends), Bunny brings his son along as he sells products, thinking nothing of keeping Bunny Jr. out of school and abandoning their home. In addition to this, there's a "side" storyline that plays heavily into Bunny's mindset: a rapist/killer is on the loose in Britain, dressing as a devil (bare chested with red face paint, wearing horns), who is repeatedly caught on mall security footage and seems to be making his way down through the country, towards Brighton.

I stick by my initial response to someone when I was asked if I enjoyed this book; that response was "Yyyeessss...?" It's not exactly a book that one enjoys, as the main character is officially a terrible human being and one's heart breaks every other page for poor Bunny Jr., but there's some beautiful language and overall, I found the book to be thought-provoking and interesting. There were even a few moments where I enjoyed the depiction of such a sleazy Lothario, but he really is a horrifying excuse for a man. It isn't even his penchant for screwing every willing (and occasionally unwilling) woman he comes across; it's more that his mindset is so twisted that he sees absolutely nothing wrong with his behavior. At his best, he drives along, honking at lesbians and leering at every woman. He even ogles a baby girl at one point, noting that he isn't someone who wants to have sex with kids, but in a couple of years, that girl would be quite a knock-out... Ugh. About 90% of his conscious thoughts seem to be directed towards sex and getting women to sleep with him (though shockingly, he does not seem to have much trouble in getting them to do just that in the early part of the novel) or simply fantasizing about a woman's vagina (he doesn't really imagine sexual scenarios with women so much as he just pictures a vagina... he even refers to himself as "a vagina man"). Side note: if I was Avril Lavigne, this book would make me insanely uncomfortable. Bunny Munro imagines Avril Lavigne's vagina quite a lot and seems to hold it up as a kind of ideal. Note that I say "it" and not really "her," as he seems rather unconcerned with any of the women themselves in this book, other than figuring out what they want him to say so he can get in their pants.

Poor Bunny Jr. is a smart and good-hearted little boy who has been dealt a crummy hand. He's polite and well-behaved, with an impressive memory. He spends a great deal of time reading his encyclopedia, which his mother gave to him. In addition, he has a small eye disorder that requires him to take drops to soothe his eyes, a fact that Bunny never remembers, and rather than press the issue and remind his father, Bunny Jr. seems content to risk going blind. He clearly adores his father, unaware that Bunny is hardly concerned with his son at all. He parrots out things that his father says, like swear words and "my dad could sell a bicycle to a barracuda." Bunny Jr.'s mother loved him, yes, but she was not strong enough to leave her husband or live with his behavior. Now Bunny Jr. is left alone with an unfit father. After his wife's funeral, Bunny tries to get his her parents to take the boy, but they will not accept him, for they only see Bunny in the child, the man who drove their daughter to suicide.

Nick Cave has a delightfully wicked sense of humor, which makes the story bearable. Even at the darkest moments, we have that. If we didn't, then I have no idea how I could have made it through this depiction of child negligence and family pain. Clearly, Bunny feels some amount of guilt for his wife's death, or he wouldn't be as haunted as he is, and his own deterioration shows how this plays upon him. Bunny Jr., too, has visions of his mother. But beyond this, we have even more surreal elements at play -- I'm sure reading this has a similar effect, but the haunting chords that accompanied Nick Cave's reading in the audiobook felt like they provided great assistance in transporting the reader to an otherworldly place. Of course, it was these surreal moments (particularly a very obvious scene where Bunny "makes peace" with people in his life) that I didn't quite enjoy. They seemed almost too much or not enough... just not right, I suppose. We are building to this ultimate moment of denial and self-absolution with Bunny, but by this point, I was ready for Bunny to receive his comeuppance. As much as I enjoyed the novel, I was pleased that it ended when it did, as I'm not sure how much more heartbreak I could have taken on behalf of poor Bunny Jr.

So if you do decide to read this one, please get the audiobook -- it's well worth it, if only to hear the words from the writer/poet himself.

No comments: