Australian rock legend, screenwriter, actor, and novelist Nick Cave is out with a scorching, hypersexual, operatic new novel — and groundbreaking audiobook — about a salesman rushing headlong toward his own bad end. The Death of Bunny Munro confronts the pageantry of male sexual perversion, the insatiability of consumer desire, and the insane capacity of the human heart to tolerate heartbreak and mystery. By turns hilarious, terrifying, poetic, and all too familiar, the book is a sharp-edged romp through the depraved subconscious next door. Flavorpill’s Shana Nys Dambrot caught up with Cave to talk about life, death, and multimedia publishing.
Flavorpill: I was hoping we could talk a bit about certain themes, or narrative and character patterns that emerge from your music, screenwriting, and fiction. Things like father and son relationships, escape, and redemption.
Nick Cave: I have a problem with the word “redemption” because it’s a Christian notion. What I wanted to try to write was an anti-redemption story. Though both men and, as it turns out, women, recognize parts of themselves in him, Bunny is a monstrous character—as the book progresses he turns into one. But there is a certain amount of satire there. I didn’t want to write a conventional story. I wasn’t really concerned with his life; I was concerned with his death.
FP: His son doesn’t see him as a monster, despite everything that goes wrong.
NC: It’s true that if there is any redemption in his story, it lies in his ability to inspire love in another human being. In this case, his son.
FP: There’s something about both the book and the audio book that remind me of the screenplay you wrote for The Proposition . Not only the cinematic sensibility of the scenes and the “soundtrack” but also the moral dilemma, difficult tasks, and rich inner narratives of the characters. It reminds me of [my all-time favorite of his albums] Henry’s Dream . Of course it’s also quite violent and perverted.
NC: I should say that neither Bunny nor the Horned Killer in the book was based on me. Sure, there are elements of Bunny’s sexual monologue running through his head that I recognize, though it’s an extreme case. For example, I don’t find clouds sexy. [Laughs] The book is really an investigation. Bunny is a product of the society in which he lives—a sexually heightened consumer society of billboards, ads, MTV—and this is the stuff of his fantasies.
FP: Fantasy and escape are major themes in the book, and again scenes are set with a detailed, cinematic sensibility. What were some of your influences on that style?
NC: What I wanted to do was make an extraordinary world out of something mundane, turn it into something unreal, dreamlike. In that respect, I am moved by people like David Lynch, the poet John Berryman, the filmmaker Makavejev — people who craft alternative universes.
FP: Speaking of complete alternative universes — the audiobook version is extraordinary. Can you talk about what you did with it that’s so unique?
NC: I’m very excited about it. It’s like no audiobook ever made. I read the whole thing of course, but Warren Ellis scored it, and there are seven (unabridged) volumes. The music adds the psychedelic element; it intensifies the hallucinatory quality that’s in the pages already. It’s spatialized for headphones too, so you really get this intense physical feeling. Once I’d got it finished I realized it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.
FP: The book already has something of an orchestral swell, a crescendo building toward its conclusion —
NC: Now, hang on! You promised me — no spoilers!
Photo credit: Polly Borland