Bunny Munro is a man with an unwavering dream, one that carries him from the first page to the last of the novel named after his demise (a promise upon which the author delivers). “I am damned,” says Bunny, when we meet him in a hotel room wearing nothing but his usual animal-print thong undies. He then comforts himself with an image of a “random vagina.” This image, it turns out, is the sum total of Bunny’s lifelong dreams, aspirations, obsessions, past-times, and random pursuits. He is a man who understands his bliss — and who can pinpoint its precise location in a few square inches of human flesh.
Within that dream, there is surprising — and often amusing — room for variety. Here, for example, is a description of the town square as seen through the eyes of Bunny Munro (Kylie Minogue, who along with Avril Lavigne is the subject of so many lewd fantasies that Cave saw fit to apologize to both women in his acknowledgements, provides the soundtrack): “Groups of scissor-legged school-things with their pierced midriffs, logoed jogging girls, happy, rumpy dog-walkers, couples actually copulating on summer lawns,”; an iPodded fitness freak in Lycra shock-absorbers who maybe waves back; a black chick bouncing across the lawn on a yellow moon-hopper (respect); a semi-naked schoolgirl with a biscuit-sized sore on the base of her spine that turns out, wonderfully, to be a tattoo of a ribbon or a bow — ‘Gift-wrapped,’ yells Bunny. ‘Can you believe it?’” His enthusiasm is not reciprocated, however, by the “surprisingly hot dykettes” who flip him the bird, nor by “a potentially hot Arab chick in full burka (oh, man, labia from Arabia)” and he wonders idly “if his wife Libby might be up for it when he gets home.”
Libby, it turns out, is not up for it. She has hanged herself instead. “Her face is the purple color of an aubergine or something, and Bunny thinks, for an instant, as he squeezes shut his eyes to expunge the thought, that her tits look good.”
Yes, it is probably quite fair to say that Bunny Munro is an antihero. It will surprise absolutely no one to learn that his skills at cataloguing the great variety of women’s primary and secondary sexual characteristics are substantially greater than his skills at caring for the women attached. But what is surprising is that Nick Cave, better known as the man who has spent the past three decades writing and performing songs about love, lust, murder, and other biblical pursuits, manages to keep one interested in the travails of a man whom even his creator seems to find despicable, clueless, and obscene (one might speculate that there may be a certain amount of overlap between the life of a touring musician and that of a traveling salesman — both of whom spend most of their time in hotels and have ample opportunities for partaking in booze and lust — though one might also assume that the former may been rewarded with more compensation, admiration, and willing female companions than the latter).
Neglecting his depressed wife up to the point of her suicide (which Bunny blames purely on her refusal to take her Tegretol as directed) is a serious enough moral failure. But it gets worse. After Libby’s funeral — where Bunny imagines all his dead wife’s friends and all his friends’ wives want to get with him — the man is left as the sole custodian of his nine-year-old son, named Bunny Junior, naturally. The morning after his mother’s death, the child finds “his father sprawled motionless on the sofa, grey as a kitchen glove and coated in a patina of cold grease.” Bunny Junior is the kind of kid who reads the encyclopedia for entertainment and retains each factoid by “putting it in a virtual color-coded box and storing it in the shelved data bank of his mind.” The son also shares his father’s ability to view the world through a scrim of horror and humor. He views the passed-out patriarch with a precociously mordant eye: “The metallic, outsized TV remote is still cradled banally in his dead hand like an anachronism. It looks antique and obsolete and somehow responsible for Bunny’s condition, as if it had failed in its sole responsibility of keeping Bunny alive.”
Things continue along this generally grim path once the two Bunnys hit the road. Bunny senior plies lonely housewives with discount beauty products and mostly unwelcome advances; Bunny Junior amuses himself tracing bug patterns on the windshield while left alone in the car, surrounded by street hoodlums, and learns important life lessons from his father’s example, such as: Disparaging Frida Kahlo in the presence of a woman who knows tai kwon do might end in a broken nose, and inviting a McDonald’s cashier — “Bunny thinks she’s similar to Kate Moss, but shorter, fatter, and more ugly” — for a quickie in the bathroom just might get you banned for life from most fast-food joints.
Bunny Munro might be a distant, even more down-market, bleaker British cousin of Rabbit Angstrom. A sociologist might point out that men don’t become quite this successful at moral apathy without first being starved of most other available options. Cave’s most distinctive quality as a novelist is in the baroque texture of his sentences and his quirky, sometimes unorthodox word choices. Phones are “castaneted” across rooms; a drunken man “Tarzans the faded chinz curtains” to let in “vulcanized daylight and the screaming of the birds deranges the room”; a prostitute has nipples “like triggers on those mines they floated on the sea to blow up ships during the war.” Whether one appreciates such high-flying stunts is a matter of taste — as is, for that matter, whether one can stomach an entire novel based on a quest for women undertaken by a middle-aged guy who hates them. But one gets the feeling that Cave himself is there in the dimly lit lobby, perhaps hidden behind a potted plant, giving the reader a merry wink and a smirk at Bunny’s expense. And that makes all the difference.