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AN EVENING WITH NICK CAVE 26/07/09 'THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO' - REVIEWED BY ALEX OGG

The recently rehabilitated Roundhouse in Chalk Farm – and beautifully rehabilitated it has been too - hosted the ITunes festival this summer, Oasis and Snow Patrol among the headliners. As an intriguing diversion, the venue’s new boutique studio hosted someone well versed in rock spectacle but now spreading his literary wings. Nick Cave, the original Bad Seed, was reading from his second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro.

Admitting the thought of reading in public for the first time left him a little dry-mouthed. Cave was a long way from the young warrior-priest leading the Birthday Party through its combustible early 80s campaign. He seemed in good spirits answering questions posed by Sean O’Hagan, though the sycophantic atmosphere that pervaded the Q&A session did him few favours. His audience didn’t get too far beyond telling him how great he was and wondering how close he is to the central character in his book (not at all, he grimaced in reply).

 

Photo: Nick Cave by Gavin Evans

The Death of Bunny Munro is not for the faint-hearted. It’s set in Cave’s hometown, Brighton, and evokes the kind of washed up, end-of-their-rope characters you might find in a Ken Loach film. In fact, it’s a little like John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Beasley Street’ in long-form. As a fictional depiction of down-at-heel seaside towns beyond the picture postcards, it’s depressingly effective. If you can stomach that, you’ll need an even hardier constitution to digest protagonist Bunny’s reductive outlook on life. He is a beauty product salesman and his unfettered cynicism towards variously compliant or physically confrontational women is unabashed. Like a younger Willy Loman starched of humanity; straight tie, clean shirt but emotionally and vocationally crooked. But the desperation to close a sale is secondary to Bunny Munro. His conception of the world is exclusively framed around vaginas, which sublimate any other consideration. If Bunny isn’t trying to achieve congress, he’s remembering past conquests. Cave makes a rod for his own back in having to continually conjure fresh verbiage to describe the engorging physical consequences for Bunny’s own genitalia. Outside of a doctor’s surgery, it’s impossible to think of a book so obsessed with penile mechanics. It’s smut, certainly. But funny smut.

Photo: Nick Cave by David Richardson

Bunny’s not really the core of the book however; instead, it is the nine-year-old son he has to steward following his wife’s suicide who provides some kind of moral context. In conversation, Cave admits that the boy’s idolatry of a father not worth much beyond biological debt (calling him ‘Bunny Jnr’ is symptomatic of dad’s lack of imagination) is inspired, at one tangent, by his own experience of fatherhood. He states that boys aged nine can’t help but think their dad is superman. (my own nine-year-old would certainly dispute that).

There are touching passages as Junior begins to slowly comprehend that things are not as they should be, as he returns again to his encyclopaedia to try to make sense of his collapsing world. His trust in his remaining parent is an affecting article of blind faith that is at once delusional and heart-warming. I’m not sure the sympathy aroused blots out the sheer weight of his father’s debasement. And the dream-like redemptive ending, set in that paradigm of working class British holiday retreats, Butlin’s, seems contrived. Otherwise Cave’s humour holds good. There’s a grim joy of recognition in anticipating exactly how Bunny is going to react to his circumstances (if it has a pulse, attempt to hump it; if it has money, don’t leave without it). Some anatomical asides about Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne are great value and the whole piece is evocative of a sordid, lost Britain.

By Alex Ogg

Alex Ogg is an author, freelance writer, catalogue A&R Consultant and Project
Manager.
www.alexogg.com

Photo by David Richardson

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