Bonk on the Head

by John-James Ford
276 pages,
ISBN: 0889712042

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First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella

It is said that "Military Intelligence" is the ultimate oxymoron, a thesis clearly proven by the novel Bonk on the Head by John-James Ford. While not a terribly good novel, it is worth reading for its scathing indictment of the Royal Military College at Kingston. Herbert Kempt, sometimes known as Verbal, is a teenager in a monstrously dysfunctional military family. His grandfather, a former military man, is a foul-mouthed, incontinent, old drunk. His father, a military man known as the Snake-eater, is a bully and a drunk who cries when intoxicated, which is often because he has never been able to fire a weapon in real combat. So what chance does Herbert have for a life, except to run screaming into the far distance, as his older sister did? Herbert, making a move he doesn't fully understand, joins the military, and makes it to Officer Training at the Royal Military College. The officers and instructors are sadistic yahoos, whose only reason for existence is to brutalize and humiliate the recruits. The cadets are treated worse than captured terrorists; the intolerable hazing and cruelty would make life in hell something to look forward to. The absurdity of it all is that once the recruits are broken and brainwashed, they are made officers and given leadership responsibilities, but the only thing they know is how to torture and humiliate the next generation of recruits.
Happily, both Verbal's father and grandfather die, while he himself is doing his best to become an alcoholic. The ending simply flops as Verbal attends a rugby camp while on leave, and his older sister returns from the hills.

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