Characters in Nick Cave songs and stories are almost always on the precipice of a reckoning. That’s never been more true than it is in The Death Of Bunny Munro, where the devil himself is wandering the south of England, and a swaggeringly confident cosmetics salesman named Bunny takes his son (also named Bunny) out on the road after the boy’s mother kills herself. Bunny the elder is a surprisingly accomplished lothario; he seems completely oblivious to the role he played in his wife’s depression, even when it confronts him directly.
To that end, The Death Of Bunny Munro is a novel about getting a character to admit to something the reader knows is true from page one. Bunny is a loathsome guy to be around for much of the novel, but not until the midway point does Cave begins to cut through some of his bullshit and reveal the depths of his loathsomeness and his sadness. At times, his attempts to bilk bored housewives out of their hard-earned money and then seduce them can feel almost too dark, as Cave gradually weans himself from the novel’s comedic aspects and heads down pitch-black corridor after pitch-black corridor.
Bunny Munro’s true strengths are revealed in the book’s final third, when Bunny begins to get flashes of the way his life deviates from the myth he’s built up for himself. Cave also makes Bunny Junior a sympathetic character for readers to latch onto, to the point where in places, he seems too good to be true; at other times, he’s a collection of little-boy quirks and fears that never coalesce into a real character. Similarly, Bunny Senior is more monstrous menace than real man, reaching out through an apocalyptic suburbia to rain disaster down on his son.
But none of this matters in the face of how Cave carefully delineates the main character, how he gradually pulls back the layers to reveal just how pathetic monsters can seem at their core. Cave never completely explains what’s been going on and what some of the odder motifs in his novel add up to, but that ends up being a strength rather than a weakness. Bunny Munro can never be fully redeemed for how bad a man he’s been, but he can realize that fact. For Cave, that’s almost as good as the real thing.