Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nick Cave – ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’

Cover your ears and watch this:

Now close your eyes and tell me that the middle of these three covers for Nick Cave’s new novel isn’t the best by a million miles:

It isn’t censorship: as the cover’s designer W.H. Chong explains here, it is normal practice for books to have different covers in the UK, Australia and the US (the order in which they appear above). It isn’t as if rabbits aren’t a theme, either. Bunny, a beauty product salesman for the two bit operation Eternity Enterprises of Brighton, takes full advantage of his peculiar name when attempting to seduce his customers (which is all the time). Even late on, when he has lost the plot completely, when his death is almost complete, this habit sticks. Here he approaches three women sitting in a café:

Bunny starts to hop up and down, waggling his hands behind his head, and says, manically and with great urgency, ‘I sell rich, hydrating, age-targeting lotions that soften the skin and exfoliate surface cells for a younger, smoother look!’

‘Excuse me!’ says the blonde, who has stopped laughing, but Bunny is screaming now, under the thundering sky and with all the rain coming down. (p. 251)

Fans of And the Ass Saw the Angel will be pleased that despite the modern setting of its successor, when the going gets fraught, it pisses down here too. The rabbit stuff, though, is just a means to an end. The Australian cover fits best because Bunny Munro is totally, delusionally, sex obsessed. He is interested in women only as a way of assessing how amazing their vaginas are going to be when he gets around to fucking them (and somehow it is the vaginas he fucks, rather than the women). But that means he is interested in them plenty. One more time:

Groups of scissor-legged school-things with their pierced midriffs, logoed jogging girls, happy, rumpy dog-walkers, couples actually copulating on the summer lawns, beached pussy prostrate beneath the erotically shaped cumulus, loads of fucking girls who were up for it – big ones, little ones, black ones, white ones, young ones, old ones, give-me-a-minute-and-I’ll-find-your-beauty-spot ones, yummy single mothers, the bright joyful breasts of waxed bikini babes, the pebble-stippled backsides of women fresh from the beach – the whole thing fucking immense, thinks Bunny. (p. 19)

Bunny’s conception of what he is seeing feeds on his libido as much as it does his eyes. A ‘junkie chick’ selling Big Issues becomes a ‘famous supermodel at the peak of her success’, then morphs back into a junkie chick again when he realises that ‘junkies give the best head (crack whores the worst)’ (p. 20). Whatever is going to give the biggest lift to the hard-on in his leopard skin briefs, that’s what he sees.

This is a novel which revels in its own bad taste. Bunny drives his wife to suicide with his philandering, then sneaks out of her funeral service for a wank because one of her friends looks hot in mourning gear. The man is out of his mind. What is scary is how it all somehow makes sense to him. It is exhilarating, too, much in the way that Cave’s most epic murder ballad, ‘O’Malley’s Bar’ is exhilarating. Half the fun in his writing is this sense of goading: ‘look how low I can make my characters sink and still have you sympathise with them.’ You wouldn’t defend Bunny’s actions for a second, but you get drawn in to their catastrophic inevitability nonetheless. You don’t even want him not to die, but he is never less than enthralling. The bad taste on display is very definitely Bunny’s and not Cave’s: he underpins the mayhem with, of all things, a strong moral sense. This is brought across in the character of Bunny Junior, Bunny’s nervous, encyclopedia-clutching ten-year-old son, who sits in the Punto outside while Bunny is selling beauty products by appointment (and letching / stealing / getting his nose broken). His is mostly a passive role, but by merely resisting what is going on around him, he reaches this insight (which includes himself as much as the girl), far beyond anything his father is capable of:

He remembers with a quickening of the heart the girl on the bicycle, and he wishes he could tell her that this is what she was – just a little girl – and as she grows up maybe she doesn’t have to turn into one of them – cock-a-doodling up the street all the time. (p. 229)

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