‘The ghosted, Technicolor nightmares of an Australian back-street abortionist’ – The Death of Bunny Monro by Nick Cave

‘‘I am damned,’ thinks Bunny Monro in a sudden moment of self-awareness reserved for those who are soon to die.’ This is the first sentence of Nick Cave’s second novel (although his first in twenty years, his debut And the Ass Saw the Angel originally published in 1988, recently reissued in a tweaked version by Penguin). Taking the title and the first sentence together, you’d be forgiven for wondering what is there to ensure I continue reading when I know pretty much from the outset how the book will end? What there is is writing that pretty much lifts you off your feet, your shirt bunched up in its fists, as it rattles and shakes you along, like so much change in a fat man’s pockets.

Bunny Monro, a sex-obsessed salesman, starts off talking on the phone to his wife from a hotel room in the Grenville Hotel (somewhere in Brighton), drinking miniatures from the mini-bar, sprawled on the bed in his leopard skin underwear, shuddering and gagging. Bunny’s wife calls him ‘a fucking liar’ before she hangs up, an act Bunny finds ‘inexplicable’ even though there is a prostitute (in ‘fluorescent pink knickers [that] pulse against her chocolate-coloured skin’) in the doorway. When he returns home the following morning, his wife is dead, slain by her own hand, leaving Bunny to look after his son, Bunny Jr, alone.

It’s frequently a misnomer to describe a book as being rock’n’roll but what follows – the adventures of Bunny & Bunny Jr – feel like nothing so much as some dirty 7” single, the kind of thing you might pick up on a Nuggets compilation, the kind of obscure, filthy, rock’n’roll that would otherwise be lost to history. Bunny drives from door to door, checking out and mentally undressing every woman he sees, obsessing over the pussies of Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne (whom Cave apologises to, in the acknowledgements at the end of the book), ignoring his son’s increasingly calamitous medical condition, finding himself in one scrape or another (he attempts to ravage a young junkie at one point, a young junkie who looks like Avril Lavigne, only to find himself pursued from a property by a drug dealer wielding a golf club), sensing a supernatural presence (possibly his wife) that robs him of his prowess and his idea of himself as cocksman. He visits housewives, housewives that he thinks he charms although, as the book goes on, we suspect he does not, gathering all manner of cuts and bruises along the way, attracting the ire of his in-laws and, gradually, ever so gradually, he starts to fall apart: ‘He is coming to believe that there are forces at work, within and around him, over which he has little or no control. He feels, obliquely, as though he is playing second banana in somebody else’s movie and that the dialogue is in asynchronous Martian and the subtitles are in Mongolian or something.’ Bunny is, ‘in short, all over the fucking shop’. The title and the first sentence tell you where we’re going but that doesn’t mean it’s a redemption-free trip and Bunny – horrible Bunny, philandering Bunny, unpleasant, villainous Bunny – is a character we grow to love, almost in spite of ourselves.

A room he enters at one point could well describe the novel we find in our hands: ‘a riot of psychedelic wallpaper and blood-coloured paisley carpet that appears to be designed around the ghosted, Technicolor nightmares of an Australian back-street abortionist’. All told, the novel is a riot, a blast, a stone classic. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, I’m sure, but those people whose tastes do not conform with ours can’t concern us here. 

Any Cop?: The Death of Bunny Monro is ‘just’ a great novel. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 20 years for the next one…

2 comments

  1. So, he didn’t apologise to Kylie too? Why not? Was he meaner about Avril? Looks like I’m just going to have to read it and find out. Sounds somewhat excellent – and great review too.

    • He does apologize to both (and expresses both love and respect to them), rest assured. Although, yeah, I would say he’s meaner — or, rather, filthier — about Avril.
      The book is amazing, although definitely not one you can put in just anybody’s hands.

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