The Death of Bunny Munro: Nick Cave

What on earth can be done with a man who sneaks off from his wife’s funeral in order to have a quick wank in the bathroom? …

In Nick Cave’s novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, the perpetually libidinous travelling salesman Bunny doesn’t stop to mourn his wife when she tops herself in their small Brighton flat. Libby may be dead, and that may leave Bunny Munro in sole charge of his nine-year-old son, Bunny Junior, but it’s not going to cramp this Casanova’s lifestyle. He hits the road with his kid in tow “learning the ropes.”  You can’t help but feel sorry for Bunny Junior, a bright little boy who suffers from untreated blepharitis and who carries around an encyclopedia, a gift from the mother who “loved him to bits.”

the death of bunny monro

Bunny Monro is a ladies’ man–cocky, infused with “irrepressible optimism,” and happy in the knowledge that women “with no coercion step into the slipstream of his considerable sexual magnetism.” But is that strictly true? When we meet Bunny on page 1, he’s hired a prostitute and later he recalls a scene in which his wife Libby caught him with an unconscious girl. As Bunny, driving a battered Punto, hits the road with his son, he has encounter after encounter in which reality crashes into fantasy. With his life coming apart at the seams, Bunny, who fantasizes about various celebrity vaginas, continues to see women as “walking fuck-fest[s]” or available vaginas walking into his life. Somewhere deep inside there’s a recognition of what he’s become and what he’s done, but with a lifetime of avoidance, it’s easier for Bunny to carry on with business as usual. Rather than take any responsibility for his wife’s death, Bunny decides he’s “victimized ” by  circumstance.

He is afforded no insights, no illuminations, no great wisdoms but he can see immediately why the ladies dig him. He is not a toned, square-jawed lover boy or cumberbunded ladies’ man but there’s a pull, even in his booze-blasted face, a magnetic drag that has something to do with the pockets of compassion that form at the corners of his eyes when he smiles, a mischievous arch to his eyebrows and the little hymen-popping dimples in his cheeks when he laughs. Look! There they are now! 

Banned from a number of McDonalds for life, Bunny hits the road with his “pomaded forelock” along with “new-found pulling power” and continues his job as a salesman while poor Bunny Junior is neglected in the process. Bunny claims he needs the work in order to deal with his grief, but the trip is really just an excuse to meet women and have as much sex as possible. As a mad horned killer stalks England, the killer’s continuing movement south seems to coincide with Bunny Monro’s misfortunes on his road trip which is peppered with a few ghostly visitations. Armed with a list of potential clients, Bunny tries to sell beauty products and his own questionable charms.

The first was a Mrs Elaine Bartlett, who lived on the fourth floor of a block of flats in Moulsecombe. Lying on the floor of its only working elevator was a bombed-out kid with a can of air freshener in one hand and a Tesco bag in the other and a Burberry cap on his head. This normally wouldn’t have been a problem, except the boy had emptied the contents of his bowels into his shorts and these were pulled down around his skinny, little ankles. The boy had managed, rather heroically, thought Bunny, to graffiti in green spray on the elevator wall, ‘I AM A SAD CUNT’. Bunny had stepped into the elevator, then stepped out and allowed its doors to judder shut. He contemplated momentarily climbing the four flights of stairs to Mrs Elaine Bartlett’s flat and realized, to his credit, that there was no way he was going to make it up them in his present condition, so he staggered back to the Punto.

The Death of Bunny Munro is a wickedly funny book with large dollops of the humour (often at Bunny’s expense) taking potshots at various societal taboos. One of the best scenes in the book (and it was hard to pick one) takes place as Bunny describes a girl in “gold hipster hotpants.” While reading through the oversexed sponge of Bunny’s brain is definitely raunchy, author Nick Cave never sinks to the puerile. Instead Bunny is a very real character, a retro male who deludes himself into thinking that his leering, drooling, drunken attentions are welcomed by every female on the planet.

There’s a quote on the back of my copy from Irvine Wells: “Put Cormac McCarthy, Franz Kafka and Benny Hill together in a Brighton Seaside guesthouse and they might just come up with Bunny Monro.” I don’t agree, but the quote does make a point. Bunny is a morally reprehensible human being, and while he thinks he’s charming to all the ladies, the truth is that his limited appeal ensnares a certain type (comatose, mentally incompetent and/or indiscriminate are attributes that Bunny likes in his women). With this sort of character at the fore of the plot, it’s fun to just sit back and read about Bunny as he careens from disaster to disaster. But again, when a character lacks an iota of self-awareness, the plot usually aims in certain limited directions. I didn’t care for the book’s ending, but I’m not sure that the plot could have gone in any other direction.

For another take on the novel, see Lisa’s blog.

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16 Comments

Filed under Cave Nick, Fiction

16 responses to “The Death of Bunny Munro: Nick Cave

  1. A friend did a guest review of this one on my blog (see https://anzlitlovers.com/2010/11/25/the-death-of-bunny-munro-by-nick-cave-guest-review-by-helen-rutten/) and you commented that you would get round to reading it one day – and voila! here it is:)
    It’s interesting to see how a man and a woman review the same book!

  2. It took me long enough.
    I didn’t see Bunny Junior growing up to be like his dad. He was a bright, optimistic little boy–oddly innocent given who his father is

  3. I gave my unsolicited review copy of this to my son, because he likes Nick Cave, on the proviso that he do a guest review, but he never did. He kept promising BUT … so all I can say is that while he likes “edgy” material (is this edgy) and non-politically correct comedy, I seem to remember that he didn’t like this much. I can’t remember exactly why.

  4. Jonathan

    A great review Guy. I’ve liked Cave’s music for years and his first novel is a true favourite of mine. I found Bunny Munro a bit difficult at first as it’s so different from his first but I got to like it ‘nearly’ as much.

    I agree with the ending – I don’t see how else he could have ended it. I used to live in Brighton and used to see the trucks with ‘Dudman’ going about. I now live further along the coast and see trucks with ‘Rabbit’ on the front – every time I see them it makes me think of this book.

    • With a character like Bunny, you really can’t make them reform. It just wouldn’t work for him to see the error of his ways. This is one of those books where you just have to enjoy the journey. It was a lot of fun. What’s the name of his first novel?

  5. It sounds entertaining but not sure if I could bear it for the length of a novel…

  6. I was wondering if it was the “& the bad seeds” Nick Cave and yes it’s the same. I like his music.
    The book sounds great, I love books about delusional characters whi constantly misread what happens to them and never see themselves as the creep they are.
    Sounds wonderful.

  7. I remember this got at least one proper kicking when it was released. It sounds like it’s on the lurid side, which is fair enough, but I have a suspicion that critics just don’t like someone like a (holds nose) *pop singer* trespassing on their patch.

    • Well it’s true that sometimes you see some celebrity or another writing a book (which gets a huge publicity push) and you find yourself thinking that here’s this person who is already very rich wanting to intellectualize themselves by writing a book of some sort of another. You know it will be crap and the only reason it’s seeing the light of day is because of the name attached to it.
      This is well written-probably easy to dismiss due the subject matter.

      • Agreed. Cave is in a different category though – he’s serious, and he’s proven it over many years. In general people who jump categories get a hard time, or aren’t taken seriously – there was an element of that with Cave’s books. Either “my, didn’t the singer write well!” or “well what do you expect – he’s not really a writer.”

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