Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (2009), 278 p.
Reviewed by Willa A. Cmiel and Jason Diamond
When deciding who at Vol. 1 should review musician Nick Cave’s new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, the following questions came to mind:
1. Who really got excited about Nick Cave putting out his second book, The Death of Bunny Munro?
2. Does Nick Cave have that large of a following that Bunny Munro could be considered a literary event? Even after his last novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, came out in 1989? Sure, he’s an acclaimed musician, but does his second novel really merit all this buzz?
So, we offer you two reviews. One from Willa Cmiel, who has admittedly never heard a Nick Cave song, and the other from Jason Diamond, who has been a fan of Cave’s music and his first novel for fifteen years. Here to figure out if The Death of Bunny Munro is worth your time as a fan of literature, a fan of Nick Cave’s, or possibly both.
Inspired Genre-Crossing or Impertinent Insufferability?: A Review by Willa A. Cmiel
A difficulty with writing is that everyone does it–everyone writes emails, thank you cards, grocery lists, journal entries–but that doesn’t necessarily make them a “writer.’ While this isn’t necessarily a problem, and just as Johnny Depp should be allowed to perform in his band–Or, a novelist in a band? I can’t think of any; we’re all misanthropes–Nick Cave should be allowed to write novels. Where, though, is the line between artistic presumption and the creative urge?
Sumptuously begun, Cave’s novel opens with an initially intriguing protagonist, Bunny Munro, whom he presents both as potential ally and a Contemptible Man, cheating on his wife while away on business. A common theme, surely, but compelling when sensitively presented. After returning home to his wife’s suicide, though, Bunny’s life spins out of control and with it his believability. Any shred of sympathy for the despicable salesman is methodically forsaken, as Cave continuously–near stubbornly, in fact–dismisses characteristic complexity with each adolescent “tenting” of his character’s pants.
Unfortunately, Bunny Munro is Cave’s only character at all bordering complexity. Munro’s poor son, Bunny Junior–perhaps the most tragically flat of them all–his boss and friends, the victimized women, each are more predictable and over-dramatized than the last. The only woman not to be seduced by Bunny Munro’s bunny ears is the one who kicks his ass after he pees on her toothbrush. Satisfying? Yes. Believable? Not as much. (To be clear: Yes, it’s believable a woman might know Karate. No, the chances of Bunny ending up on such a doorstep are not great, as I imagine the amount of individuals, male or female, with the ability to cleanly break a man’s nose without really trying are pretty small.) For Cave, point of view is a real problem, as is character believability, plot redundancy, and tense: all red flags from sophomore year’s Creative Fiction 101.
Writing as catharsis is wonderful, but if your forehead doesn’t bleed when you’re making art (Cave has suggested his does when he creates lyrics), if, in other words, it’s “easy,” then–I sincerely ask–is it worth it? Nick Cave thinks writing is easy. It was Thomas Mann, I believe, who is quoted “a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” When in writing you sidestep thoughtful analysis and intricate, painful rearranging of words, for something more anecdotal, you miss much of what decent writing is. While it’s lovely for a musician to embrace varying art forms, it’s clear that for Cave writing is a hobby, not a vocation, and he simply hasn’t the technique.
Nick Cave, I’ve Loved You Since I was Fifteen: A Review by Jason Diamond
Nick Cave deals in dark. It’s his thing. It always has been, and I am guessing it always will be, but in the last twenty or so years, he has learned to wrestle his muse, and has gone from the guy who sometimes (supposedly) wrote the lyrics for his early band (The Birthday Party) in the blood-drenched needle he had just used to shoot up various death drugs to some warped hybrid of Frank Sinatra and Leonard Cohen with serious David Bowie tendencies. By the latter part of that statement, I don’t mean Cave has ever sounded that much like the Thin White Duke, only he has a habit of lifting certain bits and pieces of both lyrical content and aesthetic from strange places. While Bowie taking from Lou and Iggy, Jobriath and T Rex has been well documented over the years, Cave has gone to even greater lengths to pick up his techniques; from obscure late 1960’s dirty blues albums, to hillbilly songs from the start of the 20th Century, Cave knows where to find inspiration in the strangest places to create some timeless songs.
But that’s songwriting, The Death of Bunny Munro, is a book, and it’s the second one written by Cave (he also wrote the screenplay for the phenomenal film The Proposition). And if it hasn’t been proven before, writing songs and writings books are totally different things.
What Cave has given us, is essentially his version of a warped 21st British novelization of Death of a Salesman. Where his first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel was his tribute to Faulkner, Bunny Munro is the sad decay of the British way of life. A middle-aged scumbag whose constant cheating finally drives his already damaged wife to off herself, and in effect, setting Munro on a downward spiral that takes him all over the lower class neighborhoods of England, and in tow is the extremely precocious Bunny Jr. The two generations of Bunny’s drive down a road to nowhere, a dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of The Road (which incidentally, Cave did the score for the upcoming film adaption), and the elder Munro’s love of his child is evident, it’s just that he is stuck with the mentality of a 19-year-old lothario, rather than that of a father figure. It is just one of his many shortcomings that we have to deal with as we are forced to endure the main character of this book, a disgusting, white trash gigolo who can’t seem to keep his dick in his pants whether it be a passed out junkie or a waitress he meets at some greasy spoon. He is constantly thinking of Avril Lavigne’s vagina, and Kylie Minogue’s ass, and beating off at the drop of the hat. He is a repulsive person, and reading this book, I kept hoping to myself that the title indeed makes reference to his impending death, and not some bad attempt at being ‘deep’.
It’s really hard to get into this book, let alone take it seriously. Nick Cave is one of the finest songwriters in the game, and I respect his body of work a great deal. For all intents and purposes, he has written a pretty good story, but 278 pages chronicling the life of a piece of human garbage gets old faster than a three minute song.
I just finished this book, and although not usually one to criticize the critic, I feel obliged to offer completely different interpretation of this book, that I think shows a much more ingenious side to Nick Caves’ writing…
I don’t presume to be able to change your minds on this texts literary value, but I would at least like to suggest a different way of viewing it that (outside of portraying a more intelligent process upon Nicks writing style) makes for an interesting reread of an otherwise simplistic novel.
What I suggest, is to view this novel as a typical Bildungsroman, though not for Bunny, rather; his son: Bunny Jr.
In this way, every recurring theme of the book is given meaning.
His father being an image of his decaying childish nature, His mother: the sheltering he has had from the outside world, falling away/The loss of his innocence, The Devil guy: The seemingly unstoppable, encroaching burden of adult life upon him, The encyclopaedia: His desire to become an adult etc…
For lack of any other reason, I urge you to take the time to read this book again, with this in mind, merely for the sake of a new spin on the same text, it gives new meaning to each scene, from the final visitation of his mother to his lying in bed, thinking of pluto.
Just another possible facet to what I think is a deceptively simple writing style.
Thanks for reading, I hope I can convince you to have another read of this text.