The wide-eyed rabbit-man looking out from the cover of The Death of Bunny Munro conjures eerie resonances with Donnie Darko. This is classic Nick Cave—tragic, and hopelessly creepy.
The novel is a telling glimpse into the mind of a sex addict and builds towards Bunny’s demise from the first sentence. Where the plot is strong, however, the style and depth of Cave’s writing is strangely muted. The recurring mention of Avril Lavigne’s vagina entirely loses its shock value by the close of the novel.
Not that sex is a poor choice of topic for a novel. The likes of Henry Miller, Leonard Cohen, and Charles Bukowski are testament to the literary value of texts that verge on pornography. But Nick Cave lacks their stylistic command and poetic incisiveness. When Bunny’s philandering drives his wife to suicide, he hits the road, 9-year old Bunny Junior in tow, to sell beauty products door-to-door. On the way he steals jewelry from an old woman, is punched in the nose, rapes an unconscious teenager, and is subsequently chased down with a golf club.
“I was a salesman, all right,” Bunny later admits in the climactic confessional conclusion of the novel. “Peddling misery, door to door.” Precocious young reader Bunny Junior sits in the car reading an encyclopedia as his father plies his trade. As he charms young women in their own homes (or fails to), Bunny’s dead wife continues to haunt him. Meanwhile, as Bunny grapples with his new state of affairs, a horned serial killer moves down the coast of England toward Brighton, the setting of the novel.
Cave’s portrayal of repressed grief has its poignancy, and yet it is confused. The narrative is a study in pure lasciviousness and shock value, but its depth and nuance of character is lacking. For a novel addressing the intricacies of grief and repression, this is not an easily forgivable failing.
Many may recognize Cave as the singer of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a goth band with similarly dark material. The Death of Bunny Munro is Cave’s second novel, and the content is hardly surprising given his artistic history. Cave has been in the music industry for 30 years, with numerous albums and collaborations under his belt (most recently collaborating on the soundtrack for the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road).
One can’t help but wonder if Cave would have been published had it not been for this respectable musical career backing his platform. While forays into other art forms are all well and good, this reviewer can’t help but feel that perhaps someone else (a more seasoned writer) could have accomplished this tragic tale just a little bit better.
Sarah Fletcher obtained her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Montreal. She works as a copywriter currently based in Montreal.