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Bonk on the Head [Paperback]

John-James Ford
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 20.95
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Book Description

June 24 2005
Winner of the 2006 Ottawa Book Award for English Fiction

Bonk on the Head is the fictional account of a young man's strange and gruelling journey through military indoctrination, and the strange and gruelling family life that drives him to it. Author John-James Ford, himself a graduate of Royal Military College, presents a spirited coming-of-age novel that is at once both gripping and hilarious. The unforgettable Verbal Kempt, boy-man, flits between deranged assaults on the senses and sensory deprivation, between memory and amnesia, to define and redefine his own understanding of freedom and personality. His dilemmas take the form of private wars inside and outside the skull--embroiling family, institutions, landscape and language.

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Review

Hemingway, Mailer, Joseph Heller, Tobias Wolff -- Americans have a long rich tradition of writing about the military, but very few Canadians have picked up the torch. John-James Ford tackles the mysteries of the military in stunning style, and reveals the rage, the sex, the hazing, the hatred, and the physical transformation of young recruits at Royal Military College. Bonk on the Head is a tour of duty and a tour de force.
--Mark Anthony Jarman

[An] assured, often disturbing debut ... Ford negotiates the labyrinth of emotions with prose that enters the mind ... simply and powerfully, like all the things it evokes: volcanic anger, sorrow, aching regret ... Ford couldn't be more attuned to the tragic potential in petty resentments and the inability to express love.
--Jim Bartley, The Globe and Mail

Using a manic, hilarious, and cheerfully vulgar style, Ford recounts the coming-of-age of Verbal Kempt, the son of a well-known army colonel and grandson of a D-Day veteran ... Bonk on the Head is entertaining. Ultimately, Verbal Kempt learns that the price of living up to the expectations of the Kernel is that he must, in effect, become him. Readers must decide for themselves whether he goes through with it.
--K. Gordon Neufeld, The Calgary Herald

With its combination of warmth, humour and brutal honesty, Bonk on the Head is just the book to shake CanLit from its safety harness.
--Chris Robinson, Ottawa XPress

Verbal Kempt is Holden Caufield for a new generation.
--Ottawa Life

... delves deeply into the reality of a military education and, as such, is a finely drawn, often unsettling book.
--Andrew Armitage, The Sun-Times

... [B]eautifully and fully written ... Bonk on the Head would be enjoyable to those interested in military tales but equally enjoyable to those who prefer tales of the psyche ... a pleasure to read.
--Sondra Fowler, Reader Views

...a finely drawn, often unsettling book.
--Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times

Ford, a Foreign Service Officer, spins a debut novel ripe with genuine humour and horror, detailing the sordid history of a dysfunctional family and the viciousness of Military College through the eyes of a young man ... But the honesty and wit of [main character Verbal Kempt's] inevitable self-destruction carries and engages throughout Bonk on the Head, leaving the reader lingering on the questions of what exactly is a good solider.
--Aaron Tucker, The Danforth Review

[A]t its best the writing is hilarious, vivid, and moves with an energetic narrative thrust that makes for compulsive reading.
--Ian Colford, The Fiddlehead

From the Inside Flap

"Hemingway, Mailer, Joseph Heller, Tobias Wolfe—Americans have a long rich tradition of writing about the military, but very few Canadians have picked up the torch. John Ford tackles the mysteries of the military in stunning style, and reveals the rage, the sex, the hazing, the hatred, and the physical transformation of young recruits at RMC. Bonk on the Head is a tour of duty and a tour de force." —Mark Anthony Jarman

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, edge-of-your-seat first novel! March 12 2006
By J D
With all due respect to Mr. Kinsella, he's made a name for himself flouting the write-what-you-know maxim and flirting with cultural appropriation (Dance Me Outside, anyone?), as any first year Canadian literature student knows. It's bad reviewing to leave out the legitimate mentionables like first-novel, fine in-your-face writing and style, hip, knowing dialogue and an insider's knowledge of the subject matter. I suppose he alludes to that last one by saying it is worth reading for its indictment of RMC. But this book is more than that. Verbal's struggles seem real and for all his actions, there's so much inaction that is part of his inner turmoil. Parts of this book are laugh-out-loud funny, others turn-away-shame-faced embarrassment by proxy. That's how into Verbal's plight you'll find yourself. And as for any sense of hyperbole, ask around: RMC holds some dark tales. None of this book seemed outrageous. Bring on book 2! Where is Verbal going next?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible First Novel Feb. 27 2006
I can't wait to read more of John Ford's work. Bonk on the Head was a riveting read that succeeded in doing what all great literature should do......make one think!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read the review from The Globe & Mail Feb. 17 2006
'm no critic, but this read is well worth it. Take it from Jim Bartley of The Globe & Mail:
Freaks like us
By JIM BARTLEY
Saturday, August 20, 2005
You've heard of army brats. Gertie Kempt takes the figurative out of the brat. Throbbing along the back roads of the Ottawa Valley in her dad's muscle car, she's a brash and reckless mentor to her malleable younger brother, Herb.
In John-James Ford's assured, often disturbing debut -- a boot-camp bildungsroman -- Herb's journey toward a soldier's manhood is impelled largely by deep and ambivalent love for his rebel sister.
Their father (the "Kernel") is a coiled spring, unwound nightly by gin. Tense after a long day at National Defence Headquarters, he erupts in upper-case during dinner: "THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO REASON YOU NEED TO USE SO MUCH MILK ON A DAILY BASIS." Alternatively, he's quiet and menacing: "I'm always at the ready... I can see through the bullcrap, my son."
Gertie is the family peacenik. Rejecting meat, she describes slaughterhouse techniques at dinner. One day she comes home with some liberated chickens. Within days, dad has blown them to red mist with his shotgun. When Gertie checks out, heading to a B.C. commune, Herb loses his anchor on sanity. One night, on the edge, he cranks up the volume on a recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
"I was no longer Ottawa Valley Irish, but came from hard Russian stock... I had no time to stop for fallen comrades... [and] there was Gertie, waiting for me, torn and ravaged and ragged, but weeping tears of joy at this reunion with her brother, her comrade, her poet-warrior."
Tension builds until, late one night, burned toast and too much gin push dad over the edge.
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