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giovedì 3 maggio 2012

The Death of Bunny Munro, by Nick Cave





As far as I can remember, I have always adored Nick Cave as a songwriter and musician, and I've always considered him a deep, interesting person, one of those artists it would be lovely to have a chat with. I knew him less as writer, excluding, of course, the lyrics of his songs. Then, last week a chain of events triggered by a dream led to me an urge to listen to his music again,after some time, and to a general interest in his works. So I bought The Death of Bunny Munro. Before I start talking about this book, I want to share this wonderful little treasure I accidentally found yesterday: it's a lecture on the love song (and on writing) held by Nick Cave in Germany about 10 years ago.

The Death of Bunny Munro is many things: a very strong and sad novel, the grotesque account of the last days of a loathsome and desperate man, the moving portrait of a relationship between a father and his son. In the beginning it was hard to "forget" that the book was written by one of my favourite musicians, this made the reading experience somehow different from the usual. But after a while I was just absorbed by the story and by its restless and imaginative and impolite prose. At times I was moved, at times totally horrified, at times amused. Never, anyway, bored.

The novel recounts the last days of Bunny Munro, a loathsome man in his 40's who works as a door to door salesman of women's beauty products and who is totally, manically obsessed with sex. After his wife's suicide, he is left alone with his 9-year-old sensitive son, and his own mess of a life and his total inability to cope with feelings. After seeing the ghost of his wife in their flat, he can't stand being there anymore, so he takes the child (Bunny Junior) to a road trip through Brighton, following a list of customers. The trip goes increasingly out of control and.... well, I won't reveal more than the title suggests.

In an interview released in Sweden in 2009, when the book was translated into Swedish, Nick Cave pointed out that Bunny is a sexual maniac who isn't actually interested in sex, sex it's just his way to fill up a "gaping hole" he feels inside of him. And he has no sexual imagination. He also said he got the idea of the the character of Bunny Munro when he read the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas.

I liked many things about this book: the restless, original, lyrical prose, the glimpses of tenderness and love you meet along the way. I also like how the author can make the reader basically sympathize (with strong, momentarily exceptions) with a disgusting man like Bunny Munro: the fact is that he is weak and desperate (at least after the death of his wife) so he deserves compassion, however brutal and perverted he may be. The character of Bunny Junior is achingly tender, so silent and wise and full of thoughts. This is one, for instance, concerning his lost mum:

He feels, with a rush of iced wind across his heart, that even by just lying there he is losing her, little by little. He closes his eyes and attempts with reasonable success to ransack his memory and conjure up images of her. He hopes by doing this that he will prevent her from melting away completely. He wants, deep down, to remember her back into existence.

This is a memory of Bunny Munro (Libby is his dead wife):

He remembers Libby lying in bed in the maternity ward of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, the newborn infant in her arms. He remembers her looking down at the child and holding the bundle to her breast with a love that involved the whole of her heart. She looked up at Bunny with a question in her eyes. Bunny registered a single, cold bead of perspiration journey down the side of his face and soak into his collar. He knew, at that moment, that everything had changed. Nothing would be the same again. He couldn't think of anything to say to his wife except maybe goodbye as he stared down at the tiny being in her arms. There was just too much love. He felt that the infant had secretly flipped the switch on an ejector seat that had flung him, unnamed, into the outer limits of his marriage.

What I liked more in this book is the dark, desperate tenderness, the painful distance between the characters, and the unique prose that envelopes the events, rich and unquiet, lyrical and coarse.
And now, I like Nick Cave even more.

The night is a deep velvet blue and the moon an alabaster balloon and the planets and the stars are spilled across the heavens, in handfuls and heaps, like gold coins. The smell of brine lives deep within the breeze that blows up from across the ocean and speaks, in a secret way, to the crowd of women who walk down the main sodium-lit thoroughfare - it speaks of deep, feminine mysteries and unawakened and illimitable desires, of silver-haired mermaids and bearded, trident-waving mermen and the looped humps of sea monsters and bejewelled cities drowned beneath masses of unreadable water.

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