In 1994, I was unemployed, had moved back in with my father, and was pondering the imponderable: going back to school. Trapped in the mountains of California, I spent my days pretending to look for a job, usually hiding out at my dad’s house reading books. That was when I read Nick Cave’s first novel, AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL. I remember being enthralled by his lush, complex sentences and his stark imagery. Looking back, perhaps it was the right time for me to read a tale of a strange boy stuck in a private, angry world. (In some ways, it reminds me now of Iain Banks’s THE WASP FACTORY.) I enjoyed the novel so much that when I met Nick Cave, I had him sign the paperback rather than any of my CDs.
Fifteen years later, Cave’s second novel, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO, is so bad it makes me scared to ever look at AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL again for fear I might find out I was wrong. BUNNY MUNRO is as short on plot as ANGEL was full, and the once complicated language has replaced its David Milch-style cadence and vocabulary for a pastiche of detective novels, riddled with clichés and lazy verbiage. Cave’s Bunny is an oily salesman who travels the road selling feminine beauty products and screwing his customers. His every moment is given over to some lurid fantasy, and as Cave quickly runs out of metaphors for his hero’s cock, they grow more and more tedious and loathsome. It’s no surprise that the book was a candidate for this year's Bad Sex in Fiction prize. I would be truly frightened to read the prose that beat it.
At the start of the book, Bunny’s wife, sick of his infidelity and fearing a killer that is plowing through England carrying a plastic pitchfork and wearing devil horns will come to her town, commits suicide, leaving Bunny alone with his 9-year-old son, Bunny Jr. He is a dreamy boy, with an affliction that makes his eyelids sting so that the very act of looking at the world hurts him. Obviously, this is a book that deals in heavy-handed metaphors. Is it any surprise that the killer’s horns turn out to be real? Boy and father go on the road, with Bunny showing Jr. the ropes while descending deeper into his personal, often surreal hell. I suppose it was Cave’s intention to drag us into hell with him; in that, he succeeds. Reading the book becomes an eternity of punishment.
The book was only made bearable thanks to the audio. For one, there is a some fantastic original music by Cave and his regular composing partner, Warren Ellis. Two, Cave is a fantastic reader, and his deep tones are wonderful to listen to. I’d love to hear him reading a better book than this one. If he can’t write it, I’d be fine if he read from the work of someone else.