It’s fair to say that the Australian renaissance man Nick Cave has a working knowledge of the dark side. In fact, Cave seems to pretty much live there — ask anyone who has read his 1989 debut novel And The Ass Saw The Angel, seen the 2005 movie The Proposition (for which he wrote the script), or heard pretty much any of his albums. Technically, however, Cave dwells on the south coast of England. That is also the setting for his second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, in which a sex-obsessed traveling salesman is forced to take his young son on the road with him following the suicide of his wife. We’re delighted to offer you an exclusive excerpt from what is undoubtedly one of Cave’s darkest, most hilarious works to date. (Be forewarned: Though we’ve dashed out obscenities, this is still most definitely not suitable for kids). The book goes on sale next week.
As Bunny turns into Church Road, the deejay is still talking about Kylie’s gold lame hot pants how they are housed in a temperature-controlled vault in a museum in Australia and have reportedly been insured for eight million dollars (more than the Turin Shroud). Bunny feels his mobile vibrate and he flips it open, takes a deep breath and releases a measure of air and says, ‘What?’
‘I got one for you, Bunny.’
It is Geoffrey calling from the office. Geoffrey is Bunny’s boss and he is also, in Bunny’s view, something of a sad case, gone to fat in that mouse-sized office of his on Western Road, almost welded into a tortured swivel chair that he rarely seems to leave. A good-looking guy once upon a million years ago there are framed photos of him on the back wall of his office, fit and almost handsome but now an outsized, treacle-voiced pervert who sweats and sniffs and laughs into the handkerchief he forever waves theatrically in his fist. Geoffrey is a sad case, in Bunny’s view, but he likes him all the same. Sometimes Geoffrey exudes a kind of paternal, Buddha-like wisdom that Bunny, on occasion, finds himself responding to.
‘I’m listening, fat man,’ says Bunny.
Geoffrey tells Bunny a joke about a guy who is having sex with his girlfriend and tells her to get down on her hands and knees because he wants to f— her up the arse and the girl says that’s a bit perverted and the guy says that’s a big word for a six-year-old and Bunny says, ‘I’ve heard it.’
Out of the radio comes a song that Bunny cannot identify and suddenly the whole thing is lost in a blast of static and Bunny rabbit-punches the radio, saying, ‘F—!’ whereupon heavy classical music blasts out. The music sounds like it is trumpeting the advent of something way beyond the bounds of terrible. Bunny looks askance at the car radio. He feels spooked by it the way it seems to choose at random what it wants to hear and he turns the volume down.
‘F—— radio,’ says Bunny.
‘What?’ says Geoffrey.
‘My car radio is…’ and Bunny hears the tortured squeal of the chair and Geoffrey open a can of lager on the other end of the line.
‘You coming to the office, bwana?’ says Geoffrey.
‘Why would I do that?’
‘Because your boss is lonely and I’ve got a fridge full of beer.’
‘Got to check on the missus first, Geoffrey.’
‘Well, send her my love,’ says Geoffrey and he belches deeply.
‘Yeah,’ says Bunny.
‘Listen, Bun, a woman called the office, says she’s your dad’s carer or something. She says you’ve got to go to your dad’s place. It’s urgent.’
‘Hey, man, I’m just the messenger.’
Bunny turns the Punto into the forecourt of Grayson Court, snaps shut his phone and parks. He steps out of the car, with his sample case and his jacket slung over his shoulder. Hoops of sweat have formed under the arms of his canary yellow shirt (he’d put on a clean one after f—— River) and as he strides across the courtyard he feels a familiar and not unpleasant tightening in his groin.
‘Maybe. Just maybe,’ he singsongs to himself, thinking of his wife and patting at the pomaded curl that sits, coiled and cocky, on his forehead.
He enters the stairwell and launches himself up the concrete steps, passing on the first floor a young girl in a brief, penicillin-coloured mini-skirt and a white stretch cotton vest that says, ‘FCUK KIDS’. She has a pimply fourteen-year-old boy in grimy grey tracksuit trousers attached to her face. Bunny clocks her small, erect niplets jutting through the stretch weave of her vest and he leans in close to her throat as he moves past.
‘Careful, Cynthia, that doggie looks infected,’ he says.
The boy, his body fish-belly white and six-packed, with a mantle of acne across his shoulders, says, ‘F— off, you c—.’
Bunny lets out a series of dog barks.
‘Arf! Arf! Arf!’ he goes, leaning out over the stairwell and taking the steps two at a time.
‘Come here, you wanker!’ says the boy, clenching his face and making to go after him.
The young girl named Cynthia says to the boy, ‘He’s all right. Leave him alone,’ then bares her long, braced teeth and, like a lunar probe or a lamprey, sinks down hungrily upon the boy’s neck.
Bunny roots in his pocket for his key as he strides down the gangway to his door. The front door is painted the same canary yellow as Bunny’s shirt and Bunny flashes for an unacknowledged instant an image of Libby, ten years ago, in Levi’s and yellow Marigolds, crouched by the door painting it, smiling up at him and wiping a strand of hair from her face with the back of her hand.
When he opens the door, the interior of the flat is dark and strange, and as he enters, he drops his sample case and attempts to hang his jacket on a metal peg that is no longer there. It has been snapped off. The jacket falls to the floor in a black heap. He flips the switch on the wall and nothing happens and he notices that the light bulb in the ceiling has been removed from its socket. He shuts the front door. He takes a step forward and, as his eyes adjust to the dark, he observes with a feeling of confusion a deeper disorder. A single bulb burns in a standard lamp, the tasselled shade cocked at an improbable angle, and in this pale uncertain light he sees that the furniture has been moved; his armchair for instance, turned to face the wall like a naughty schoolboy and buried beneath a yoke of discarded clothes, the laminated dresser upended, its legs snapped off bar one from which a pair of Bunny’s briefs hangs like a sorry flag.
‘Jesus,’ says Bunny.
On the coffee table is a towering stack of pizza boxes and about a dozen unopened two-litre bottles of Coke. Bunny understands, in slow motion, that it seems to be his clothes, in particular, that have been thrown about the place. There is a sour and cloying smell that Bunny remembers, on some level, but cannot identify.
‘Hi, Dad,’ comes a small voice, and a nine-year-old boy, in blue shorts and bare feet, emerges suddenly out of the particled darkness.
‘F— me, Bunny Boy! You scared the s— out of me!’ says his father, spinning this way and that. ‘What happened here?’
‘I don’t know, Dad.’
‘What do you mean, you don’t know? You bloody live here, don’t you? Where’s your mother?’
‘She’s locked herself in her room,’ says Bunny Junior, and he rubs at his forehead then scratches at the back of his leg. ‘She won’t come out, Dad.’
Bunny looks around him and is pole-axed by two parallel thoughts. First, that the state of the flat is personal to him, that it is a message he sees now that some of his clothes have been slashed or torn apart and that he is in some way responsible. An unspecified guilt, from out there on the boundaries of his psyche, pops its head over the fence, then ducks back down again. But this uneasiness is superseded by a second, more urgent, mood-altering realisation that sex with his wife is almost certainly off the agenda and Bunny feels super pissed off.
‘What do you mean, “Won’t come out”?!’ he says, marching through the living room and down the hall and shouting, ‘Libby! Lib!’
In the hall, a box of Coco Pops has been evenly and deliberately emptied across the carpet and Bunny feels them exploding beneath his feet. He yells louder, incensed, ‘Libby! For f—’s sake!’
Bunny Junior follows his father down the hall and says, ‘There are Coco Pops everywhere, Dad,’ and stomps about on them in his bare feet.
‘Don’t do that,’ says Bunny to the boy. He rattles the door handle vigorously and yells, ‘Libby! Open the door!’
His wife does not respond. Bunny presses his ear to the door and hears a peculiar high-toned vocal sound coming from inside the room.
‘Libby?’ he says quietly. There is something not unfamiliar about the weird, alien mewling, and it affects Bunny in such a way that he lets his head loll back and sees that there are great lengths of Crazy String hanging from the empty light socket in the hall like the electric-blue entrails of an alien or something. He points, incredulously, and says, ‘Wha-a-a?’ and, after a time, drops in slow motion to his knees.
‘Oh, that was me,’ says Bunny Junior, pointing at the Crazy String. ‘Sorry.’
Bunny presses his eye to the keyhole.
‘Ha!’ he exclaims, coming back to life.
Through the keyhole he can see Libby standing by the window. Unbelievably, she is wearing the orange nightgown that she wore on their wedding night, which Bunny has not seen in years. In an instant, in a flash, he remembers, in dream- time, his brand-new wife walking towards him in their honeymoon hotel, the sheer near-invisible material of the nightgown hanging perilously from her swollen nipples, the phosphorescent skin beneath, the smudge of yellow pubic hair veiled and dancing before his eyes.
Kneeling among the Coco Pops, his eye pressed to the keyhole, Bunny thinks, with an unannounced wave of euphoria, that the chances of a mid-afternoon f— look decidedly better.
‘Oh, come on, baby, it’s your Bunnyman,’ he says, but Libby still does not respond.
Bunny leaps to his feet, hammers at the door with his fists and screams, ‘Open the f—— door!’ as Bunny Junior says, ‘I’ve got a key, Dad,’ but Bunny pushes the boy to one side, takes a few steps back and slams himself into the door. The boy says, ‘Dad, I’ve got a key!’ and Bunny hisses, ‘Get out of my way!’ and this time flies at the door like a maniac, full force and grunting with the effort, and still the door does not open.
‘F—!’ he screams in frustration and drops to his knees, pressing a furious eye to the keyhole. ‘Open the f—- door! You’re scaring the kid!’
‘Stand clear, Bunny Boy!’
‘I’ve got a key,’ says the boy, holding the key out to his father.
‘Well, why didn’t you say so? Christ!’
Bunny takes the key, puts it in the keyhole and opens the bedroom door.
Bunny Junior follows his father in. He sees that Teletubbies is on the TV but the TV, small and portable, is on the floor over by the window. The red one named Po, with the circular antenna on its head, is saying something in a voice that the boy no longer has the ability to understand. Without taking his eyes off the TV, the boy senses his father has stopped moving and he perceives an orange smear of stillness in the corner of his vision. He hears his father say the word ‘F—’, but in a quiet, awestruck way, and decides not to lift his head. Instead, he looks at the carpet and keeps looking and notices a Coco Pop has lodged itself between the toes of his left foot.
Bunny curses quietly a second time and brings his hand up to his mouth. Libby Munro, in her orange nightdress, hangs from the security grille. Her feet rest on the floor and her knees are buckled. She has used her own crouched weight to strangle herself. Her face is the purple colour 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.
Photo Credit: Cave: Gavin Evans