A wise man once wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword. Unfortunately, the reluctant protagonist of The Antagonist has never considered himself a wise man. Having spent most of his life being valued for his brawn, not his brains, it is a bitter pill to swallow when Gordon Rankin (or “Rank,” as he prefers to be called) discovers that an erstwhile university friend has published a successful novel featuring a hulking goon of a character whose backstory overlaps rather alarmingly with Rank’s own biography. Incensed and aggrieved by this unlicensed pilfering of his life story, Rank starts up a correspondence with the man he once thought of as a brother in an attempt to set the record straight—and perhaps even right some wrongs in the process.

In the tradition of Canadian literary greats such as Robertson Davies, Edmonton author Lynn Coady has created a spirited—sometimes spiritual—tale about growing up that is truly larger than life. Coady’s rendering of individual characters is lively, but particularly impressive is her knack for nailing the interpersonal dynamics, whether between mother and son, father and son, or young college students trying to find their way in the world. Also remarkable is how keenly Coady evokes her homeland: The book is undeniably and unabashedly Canadian. Yet one does not require any special knowledge of our neighbors to the north in order to identify with Rank’s journey to self-acceptance, or appreciate his discovery that, in life, we are each of us authors of our own story.

A finalist for Canada’s Giller Prize, The Antagonist is a rich and nuanced novel about growing older and wiser that transcends borders and holds universal appeal.

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