By Richard Lam
Nick Cave is infatuated with Avril Lavigne’s vagina.
That specific celebrity body part, along with Kylie Minogue’s hot pants, are recurring images in Bunny Munroe’s broken mind in the prolific musician’s second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro.
Bunny is a sex-obsessed travelling salesman, neglecting his family and spending his days on the road dealing in “the highest quality beauty products.” To pass the time on his long trips, he somehow manages to charm his way into the pants of nearly every woman he encounters — whether they’re his customer, his server or just a reliable prostitute.
However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Bunny is suddenly forced to take his son Bunny Junior on the road with him. Attempting to continue his womanizing pursuits, while simultaneously trying to look after his son for the first time, Bunny’s mind begins to fracture, leading to a wild, divergent, free-for-all of a character study, at times both shocking and funny.
Cave’s second novel comes 20-years after his last one, And The Ass Saw The Angel. As one of the most distinct and productive artists of our time, one can’t help but view it in the context of his renowned musical career.
Ass Saw The Angel was a dark and dreary masterwork, rife with biblical imagery and hopeless, irredeemable characters. The heavy bleak tone is also reflected in Cave’s 1986 album Your Funeral … My Trial and 1989’s Tender Prey, which were also the years of his heaviest alleged drug use.
Cave has since outgrown this serious and tortured phase, putting out deliberately raunchy and joyously energetic work with Grinderman and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! This newfound sense of humour and fun transfers directly to his prose writing.
His prose excels when he plays with language. There are great slabs of vivid text describing Munro’s sexual fantasies, gradually growing more disturbed and depraved, slowly hinting at what’s to come. However, the novel lacks the focus and intensity of Angel. There are similar themes in both: fathers and sons, alcohol abuse, the protagonist’s eventual descent into madness, but Bunny Munro struggles to find a consistent, appropriate tone throughout most of the book. Only in the final third, where the story takes a sudden and unspeakably disturbing turn, does Death truly find its voice and drive it home.
There are energetic video performances of Cave reading excerpts from Bunny Munro on his website, and he is doing readings on an extensive worldwide book tour, most recently in Toronto and Ottawa. He is also releasing an unabridged audiobook, read by him and containing an original soundtrack with accompaniment from him and musical collaborator Warren Ellis.
Perhaps this is the best way to approach the work: as a performance, focusing on the style and delivery, simply savouring in the wild tangents of his narrative prose in all of its uneven glory.
And, of course, Avril Lavigne’s vagina.