Despite the title, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO is not a novel from my preferred genre of crime fiction. Defining exactly what it is, however, is a lot harder. Nick Cave is one of my favourite musicians, despite so much of his subject matter being somewhat more biblical than would normally be of any particular appeal. With this novel he's moved from the overtly biblical, southern gothic feel of AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL released in 1989, but not completely away from some of all of its core themes. THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO explores human frailty, fanaticism and vengeance, set this time within the confines of a small family, over which Bunny Munro's behaviour casts a sad, reflective, self-interested and yet strangely touching pall.
Bunny is a man who gives into his natural urges. Constantly. He's utterly obsessed with sex, his every waking moment seems to be devoted to the pursuit of casual sex. He gives nobody a second thought - his conquests, his wife, their young son. All he thinks about, all he can do is pursue sex. When his wife finally gives up the constant pain of their marriage - and her life - and kills herself with Bunny Junior in the flat with her - Bunny is still unable to grasp the message she leaves him. He's also not quite able to grasp the ramifications of being a sole parent to a sad and lost little boy, even though somewhere inside his self-obsessed, pleasure-obsessed, mindless behaviour something human, something beyond himself, is tantalisingly close to being reached by Bunny Junior. But Bunny Senior isn't able / willing / open enough to change, to let go of his own, to stand aside from his pleasure, to look outside of himself. Or at least not in time he isn't.
There were aspects of this book that made me profoundly uncomfortable. Not the sexual descriptions - which are prolific, and explicit, but rather the starkness of Bunny's obsession with sex. The starkness in which pursuit became predation, pleasure became cruel, made me wince. A lot. Especially as what little control there had been simply gave way. The violence implicit in that one person's complete disregard for everyone around him, writ large against his little boy's unconditional love, acceptance, sorrow, understanding. The finale in which everything, all pleasure, all pursuit, is revealed as pointless.
There were also aspects of this book that soared, that were hilarious. Gallows humour maybe, certainly absurdist, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO grabs you, shakes you, slaps you to make sure you're still paying attention, then tugs your heart-strings. Then it wraps them around your ears and tweaks like crazy until your heart aches and your ears ring.
I could not get the lyrics from INTO MY ARMS out of my head as I read this book, which didn't help as THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO made me cry. A lot. I read it a second time. Laughed, winced, lost my temper with Bunny, cried a lot all over again.