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As you would expect, if you knew anything about Nick Cave, this book witty, and very very dark. The main character, Bunny, is not a nice man, a salesman, who prays on attractive and not so attractive female clients, and a neglecting father who is seemingly interested solely in casual sex. The book seems to follow his self-induced downward spiral, dragging his innocent son, also Bunny, with him. The relationship between Bunny and his son is the focal point of the story, the boy's innocence and the behaviour of his father heart-breaking, but it is nonetheless compelling, no matter how graphic and lurid the writing of Bunny and his destructive behaviour becomes. The main character is attractive even as appalling as he is, and is wholly believable. Cave's characters are thoroughly thought out, and Bunny Snr serves to answer questions on Bunny's behaviour, and leaves the reader mortified over the possible future for the innocent Bunny Jnr.
Bunny Munro sells beauty products for a living and uses his job as a travelling salesman as a way to pick up women. He is a larger than life character and the life and soul of the party and is able to charm his way into many bedrooms. This hedonistic lifestyle comes to an abrupt end when his long suffering wife, Libby, takes her own life and Bunny is left alone to bring up Bunny Junior. Bunny believes he is haunted by his ex wife's ghost so leaves their home behind and takes the youngster out on the road with him to teach him the tricks of the trade. Will Libby's ghost manage to extract revenge or will Bunny manage to build a new life for himself and his son?
I had picked up this book a few times and thought that it looked promising, like the plot would be some kind of voyage of discovery as Bunny bonds with his son but I could not be more wrong. There is very little plot as Bunny just drags the kid around Brighton to sit in the car whilst he continues shagging every woman he can and drinks himself into a stupor whilst feeling sorry for himself. To be fair, the plot does pick up slightly in the last couple of chapters but you have to plough through an awful lot of dross to get to that point.
Bunny Munro is truly an awful character, imagine Reg Holdsworth from Coronation street on a double dose of Viagra and you have the idea. He is a loud character with a sex addiction (when he cannot get a woman he masturbates furiously) who believes that he is God's gift to women. I have rarely encountered a character who is simultaneously so loathsome and yet so one dimensional. Try and imagine a man who wears loud shirts and ties with bunny rabbits on them, drives a yellow Punto, entertains himself by thinking of vaginas, drinks like a fish, chain smokes and has an overinflated ego and you will be picturing Bunny. It was hardly surprising that his wife decided to top herself, how he managed to attract a wife in the first place is the big mystery.
The only other characters in the book are shallow stereotypes too, Bunny Junior had some promise as the geeky kid who sits and reads his encyclopedia but he was never allowed to be anything than a sidekick. Bunny has an assortment of creepy and sleazy friends and meets a variety of women but they too are only given tiny roles in the story.
The language used in the book, like the main character, is also loud and lewd. I have no objection to swearing or bad language but the awful clichéd prose was repetitive. The worst line from the book was probably when Bunny describes his dimple as "hymen popping" but the rest of the book also sounds like it was written by a horny schoolboy.
'The Death Of Bunny Munro' is one of the worst stories that I have read for a long time and I think I deserve a medal for making it through to the end of the book so I could review it. I have got a feeling that the book was only published in the first place because it had a celebrity author as the story did not deserve to be published.
Bunny Malone is, quite simply, a sex-mad cosmetics salesman who, when his long-suffering wife commits suicide, embarks on a road trip (albeit through suburban East Sussex) with his precocious, and at the same time naive, son, Bunny Jnr.
The lead character couldn't be more aptly named: Bunny senior gets it on with the women of suburbia - the teenage mothers, the bored housewives, the hollow-eyed heroin-hungry prostitutes - while his son sits (sometimes) patiently in the car, reading his encyclopaedia and memorising the capitals of every nation on earth.
Perhaps because he is more of a caricature than a real person, Bunny manages to maintain a degree of likeability in spite of his undeniable awfulness. Indeed, "The Death of Bunny Munro" is a brilliant combination of inky black comedy and pure tenderness. There's an incredible amount of warmth around the relationship between Bunny senior and his doting son, yet this is a man whose mind is constantly distracted by thoughts of Avril Lavigne's vagina.
Cave, the elder statesman of the alternative music scene, can get away with such scenes - his description of Kylie's "Spinnin' Around" video as "an orgiastic paean to buggery" is not something every author could get away with - and many of these characters inhabit the same world as those found in his lyrics (I found this particularly close to Cave's Grinderman project). There are laugh out loud moments and there are plenty of them but the middle-aged salesman's thoughts directed at (often very) young girls is more disturbing and sits uncomfortably alongside the more comedic aspects.
Cave paints an evocative picture of the seediness and squalor of Brighton and its environs: the piss-stinking stairwells of council flats, shabby hotels, greasy spoon cafes. Cave finds ugliness everywhere which makes the horrible behaviour of the unlikely lothario less sordid when seen against this grim backdrop. Cave, an Australian by birth but a long-time resident of the UK, captures a sense of Englishness with considerable skill but the occasional Americanisms that crop up from time to time are jarringly incongruous.
Not for the easily-offended, "The Death of Bunny Munro" is a dramatic and dark Bacchanalian road trip through Brighton's suburbs, a very English "Fear and loathing in Las Vegas" if you like, or Will Self without the mind-boggling vocabulary. A side plot provides an unnecessary distraction and serves to convince that this would have been better conceived as a novella than a full novel. You can look at this, Cave's second literary outing, on so many levels and dissect its complexities ad nauseam; this reader found it, for the most part, deliciously dark and compelling. A gloriously irreverent read.
Paperback 288 pp, Canongate Book, June 2010
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
Thanks to Canongate Books for providing a free review copy of the book.