Canongate £16.99 (278pp) £15.29 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Death of Bunny Munro, By Nick Cave
Friday 18 September 2009
Nick Cave's musical career is easily summarised: 20 years of musical and lyrical excellence - first with The Birthday Party and then the Bad Seeds - each album an improvement on the last, reaching a high point with The Boatman's Call in 1997, a record that sits happily alongside Bob Dylan's Blood on The Tracks or Neil Young's On The Beach as one of the greatest rock records of the 20th century. Then a four-year hiatus during which he cleaned up and got married, followed by a sequence of records which have received near unanimous acclaim, yet are far more scattershot. Cave has moved from the chiselled perfection of his earlier lyrics to an anything-goes approach, as he notes in a lyric from "We Call Upon the Author": "Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix!"
This is relevant to Cave's career as a novelist. His first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel (1989), was the perfect accompaniment to that first sequence of albums. His latest, The Death of Bunny Munro, is the perfect literary expression of Cave's later style, with several nods and winks for fans. While the first novel was florid and Faulknerian, taking place in a mythical Deep South that seemed as much the product of Cave's imagination as any real location, the second is (at least until some last minute fireworks) a work of contemporary kitchen-sink realism.
Cave has boasted that he wrote this novel in a few weeks, but this is not to the book's demerit. After the success of his movie, The Proposition, it was announced that he was working on a screenplay called Death of a Ladies' Man, which seems to have been the starting-point for this novel: both projects concern a priapic salesman and his sexual adventures in Brighton. After his wife commits suicide, Bunny seeks refuge in female flesh, heading steadily to his doom, ignoring his young son, Bunny Jr, as he complains about an ever-worsening eye complaint.
Some may be troubled by how well the author inhabits his seedy protagonist, but Cave has his defence ready, claiming he was creatively inspired by Valerie Solanas's S.C.U.M. manifesto and Englishmen's obsession with lad mags. While there's no doubting the seriousness of the book, Cave relishes writing seedy sex scenes as much as he once enjoyed writing about violence.
Not that there's anything wrong with this, but Cave's persona does allow him to deal with territory few other novelists could get away with. Who else could wax lyrical about Avril Lavigne's vagina and Kylie Minogue's bum safe in the knowledge that the objects of his attention will find it flattering rather than alerting security guards?
What truly elevates the novel is not Cave's thesis, but the smoothness of the prose and masterful combination of black comedy and sentiment.
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