The man in The Observer had it right: the book that Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro most closely resembles, for me, anyway, was a Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho. Like Psycho, Cave’s novel is a quick, compelling book to read, and I finished most of it within the space of one night. The fact that you know how the story is going to end from the very first sentence, from the title, and from the fact that the book is split into three parts the last of which is titled ‘Deadman’, and the fact that the titular Bunny is such a grotesque and loathsome beast, mean that you find yourself pacing through the pages to see how he gets his comeuppance.
Bunny and Psycho are similar in many ways: the importance of pop culture references (80s MOR in the latter, high energy early noughties pop in Cave’s book); the violent, pathological obsession with sex and women’s bodies; the fact that both protagonists have but only the dimmest sense that their actions may be ‘wrong’; and the importance placed on describing the detail of the material world. Both are also infused with a manic and deeply black comedy; I found a rich seam of hilarity in the contrast between Bunny’s view of himself as a debonair, irresistible superman and the fact that he races around Brighton in a bright yellow Fiat Punto covered with seagull droppings, wearing garish shirts and ties with cartoon insignia.
Where The Death of Bunny Munro really differs is that it describes a world which is sordid both fundamentally and on the surface, whereas American Psycho is slick on top, grim below. Cave fills his book with truly stomach-churning descriptions of Bunny’s world: a hotel breakfast is ‘adrift in its sullage of grease’; the man who supplies Bunny with the beauty products he sells to women around town sits obesely in a dark, airless office with a fridge full of lager and a collection of Swedish pornography.
All this repulsiveness made me wonder, after the first fifty pages, whether this was going to be a chore rather than anything like an enjoyable read. But that was giving Cave insufficient credit, of course, because the tale rapidly shifts perspective by introducing the figure of Bunny Junior, Bunny’s nine-year-old son. Bunny Junior gradually takes control of the narrative and, because he is clear-headed, sane, and caring, the reader can view the father’s hideousness from a little more of a distance, rather than being quite so fully immersed in his world. Bunny Junior also provides what the book really needs: a hero, someone to root for.