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The Antagonist

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  1,807 ratings  ·  241 reviews
Against his will and his nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin ("Rank") is cast as an enforcer, a goon -- by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own "tiny, angry" father, Gordon Senior.

Rank gamely lives up to his role -- until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument. Escaping the only way he can, Rank disappears. But almost twenty years later he
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published September 3rd 2011 by House of Anansi Press (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  1,807 ratings  ·  241 reviews

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Ron Charles
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-favorites
Dear Lynn Coady,

I know, I know — those reviews written in the style of the book being reviewed are always an embarrassment, a too-cute indulgence that some friend or editor should have snuffed out before they saw the light of publication. Maybe you saw just two months ago when a certain New York Times critic tried to write a poem about Calvin Trillin’s poems. (No, iamb not kidding!) But your strange epistolary novel, “The Antagonist,” sent me reeling, and I can’t help reaching out to you
Jennifer (aka EM)
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: maciek
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: mike reynolds
This novel gets the early nod for the 2013 EccentricMuse Skippy Dies Award (a novel starring adolescent males that I’m completely surprised I enjoyed as much as I did).

Coady balances gritty realism with literary flourish to carve a portrait of a young man who grows up to become something other than everyone thought he would; and one who excavates his past in a series of emails spurred on by reading a former friend's novel in which he plays either a major or a minor role (it's not clear which;
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-america, literary
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live" --Joan Didion

I almost skipped this book on my reading list and am so glad I didn't. First of all, the voice is terrific: Rank is consistently a very believable character whose narration ranges from very angry rants to emotionally restrained and self-critical reporting to nearly heartbreaking confessions. The formidable plot has us following three mysteries: what happened to Rank's mother (or at least "how"), what happened at the Icy Dream, and what
Kerry Clare
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The jocks in my classes at university were always kind of fascinating. Mostly because one didn’t encounter them very often– I went to Uof T whose sports programs were notoriously poor-perfoming. But also because their academic skills always came as a kind of surprise, and because some of them were so big that they couldn’t fit into those chairs that had the desks attached, and had to sort of get wedged in, and I remember how completely uncomfortable these guys looked, how they rendered the world ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
What begins as a slog through anger Rank aims at his father and the frat boys Rank hung out with at college, ends up being penance in the form of emails written to Adam, one of those frat boys, who has written and published a fictional account of Rank’s life. Rank wants to set the record straight. And all those painful memories must be recounted. All those repressed youthful behaviors. All the unresolved “crimes” he has committed most often due to his size and strength.

Although the reader doesn
Nov 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about Lynn Coady's The Antagonist. The first third of the book felt really slow to me and I had a hard time relating to the story and the characters. Perhaps this is just due to the nature of the characters involved - I am not usually drawn to strong, sporty, male characters. But as the novel progressed, as the story started to unfold, and as Rank's angry jock persona started to evolve into one with real depth and emotion, I found myself pulled into the book and the ...more
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every guy that I hung out with in college wrote this book. Every guy that played football, that belonged to a frat, every guy that just got too drunk on the weekends this is the story that they would write. It’s about regret, and a little bit about embarrassment and shame. It’s also about knowing all of those things, and still thinking it’s horribly unfair to be called out. For anyone to be called out. We are not those people anymore, those people that did those things, that behaved that way.
Maree Cox-Baker

Just couldn't get into this book. Was very disappointed because I had heard good things about it. So many books to read no need to waste my time on books that don't grab me.
Dina Desveaux
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Why oh why won't Goodreads give us 1/2 stars?
This is definitely 4.5 stars. I can't quite bring myself to rank it alongside Marquez or Murakami, but damn it's a fine novel. And, if I were ranking on its ability to make me laugh out loud and cringe simultaneously, there it ranks at 5 stars, no contest.

The Antagonist:

“Do you remember that asshole from high school? The one who strutted tall in the halls, walking with a such a wide swagger you’d think he had a dick the size of a Volkswagen between
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow!! I really enjoyed this book!! It completely took me by surprise. Coady’s premise - a collection of emails from a man, “Rank”, to his old college friend to rebut the “truth” this so-called friend wrote in a novel - was unique and just worked remarkably well. Rank, the titular antagonist, made for quite an endearing protagonist here. The emails, written over a fairly short span of time, covered much of Rank’s forty years with both humour and heart. A genuine, honest feeling and character ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that grows on you incrementally as the story progresses. There is a depth to this writing that is very subtle and almost elusive, but it is there. Everything about this book is creative -- the premise, the style, the genre, the characters. I thought Rank was a unique and sympathetic protagonist,and I thought the character of his father was hilarious and brilliant. What I loved about this book was the way the characters started out as one-dimensional (even risking ...more
Shirley Schwartz
Nov 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ms. Coady is one of Canada's premiere novelists, and that is very apparent when you read this book that was one of the finalists in the 2010 Giller Prize awards. There have been a lot of things in the news here in Canada lately about hockey enforcers and the toll it takes on their lives. This book illustrates this issue very well indeed. Rank is just that-a big, brawny guy who has been expected all his life to act as an enforcer-in hockey, in his various jobs as a young man, and in just about ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have had this book on my 'To Read' list for quite some time-since it's Giller Prize nomination and am glad I finally took the time to read it. The Antagonist is amazing. Lynn Coady's talents as a writer shine throughout. Gripping, sad and redeeming all at once, you can't help but relate to Gordon Rankin Jr. (Rank). His story spills out through his fury at an old university friend who used Rank or a caricature of Rank in a book. Rank's anger at his father and his friend but mainly at himself ...more
Chelsey Quack
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
I read this book more because of who wrote it rather than an interest in the plot. I wasn't all that drawn to the idea, but once I started, Rank pulled me in quickly. He's such a surprising character and even though he and I are so, so different, as the book goes by, I think a lot of people would start to see aspects of themselves in him - his desire for people to interpret him properly, not to peg him down as a certain stereotype, etc. It's a pretty universal struggle from adolescence into ...more
Steven Langdon
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
All of the 2011 Giller nominees involve violence, either with violent incidents playing crucial roles in plots (as in Ondaatje and Bezmozgis,) or with violence as a central theme in the books (from the rise of the Nazis in Edugyan to the agonizing of a "reformed" terrorist in Gartner's title story, "Better Living with Plastic Explosives.") In a world of international terrorism, and continuing warfare (from Somalia to Libya,) literature may be moving inevitably in harsher directions. The novels ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Any first-person novel must, by virtue of the form, be a meditation on the construction of identity, the coherence and contradictions of personal and reflected versions of ‘self.’ In her novel The Antagonist, Lynn Coady has imagined the perfect context for this exploration, one in which Gordon Rankin (“Rank”) discovers that his best friend from college has written a novel based on events from Rank’s own life. What follows is a series of dense e-mails in which Rank ‘corrects’ Adam’s version of ...more
Bree Hobgood
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book. It was such a delight to read it, without previously learning of the plot, that I won't go into the plot here, but I'll tell you why it was such a good read. The author nailed what it was like to be a college student in the 90s, and not in a "make-fun-of-Dave-Matthews-Band" way, but in a "that's-exactly-right!" way. Although the characters were a few years older than me, from Canada, and male, I knew versions of all of them. The story was told as a one-sided stream of ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Originally posted at

Let’s start with a bit of honesty here. I did not want to read this book. I remember hearing about it when it came out and heard that it was about hockey, and I was not the least bit interested. I put the book out of my mind immediately. But then (a little more honesty here) when Jian Ghomeshi put his piece on Facebook about being fired from the CBC (before we found out that he is a woman beating asshole) he mentioned that his sex life was no worse
Paula Dembeck
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of Gordon Rankin Junior, adopted as a newborn by Sylvie and Gordon Rank Senior. He was a big baby who grew up to be a big man, fulfilling a role that his father began carving out for him early in life as a big imposing kid. Beside the story of how and why that happened, lies another cleverly crafted piece Coady has included on writing a novel.

Gordon Rank Junior, who comes to be known simply as Rank, is the narrator, writer and “The Antagonist” of the title. His mother Sylvie
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
It’s like seeing pictures of yourself that you didn’t even know anyone was taking—candid camera—a whole album of worst-moment closed-circuit stills. There you are taking a dump. There you are saying precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time. There you are stepping on someone’s puppy while scratching your crotch.


Do you remember that asshole from high school? The one who strutted tall in the halls, walking with a such a wide swagger you’d think he had a dick the size of a Volkswagen between
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cbc-100-canadian
Oh wow how I hated this book in the beginning. Thanks to those of you who said that it would get a lot better, because it really, really did.
Barton Hacker
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
(Audi book)

I'm not sure why this book intrigued me as much as it did. It's certainly not an uplifting story. In fact, it's quite the opposite. However, it's well written, well narrated, and arguably original. I couldn't put it down.
Roger Brunyate
Aug 01, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Gives the Bildungsroman a Bad Name

I did not like the book at all. Perhaps it is simply a mismatch of material to reader, but I also sense a mismatch of author to material. Much of the problem for me came from what others may see as the author's greatest strength: her uncanny ability to speak through the voice of her rather dislikable male protagonist. So convincing was the tone that I even paused at one point to check the author's gender (I have known men called Lynn too). But no, this Lynn is a
Rachael Preston
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Such a clever, clever book. And not a book about emails or hockey in particular--though the narrative is delivered entirely in emails and the main character plays hockey--but a book about storytelling. About writing. And about how the process of writing changes not only the story, but the storyteller. Because his emails go unanswered, Rank only has himself, his memories, his thoughts and reactions to deal with, and in this he more resembles a novelist, shouting in the dark. Emails are the ...more
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual and compelling novel. First of all, the protagonist's voice is one that doesn't get explored in fiction very often... the voice of an angry, 30-ish, alpha male/pothead/depressive. I found myself relating to this story quite well because I may have known a few versions of this protagonist in my real life. Furthermore, the peripheral characters also felt like people that I knew personally. In particular, the house that the four students share together in their second year of ...more
Susan Jacoby
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've ever seen a self you barely recognize reflected back in the eyes of another, you know the agonizing frustration consuming protagonist Rank as "The Antagonist" begins. Frustration deepens into anger as Rank ruminates on the injustice of how a former friend turned novelist Adam has "stolen" his life for a recent book. Luckily for the reader, when Rank is angry, Rank is very sarcastic, very caustic, and very funny.

The story unfolds in a series of emails to his old college buddy, Adam.
Carla Johnson-Hicks
I was not sure about this book when I started to read it, it did not really appeal to me, especially when my reading club selected it as a "Hockey" book. That is really not the main theme. Once I got into it though, I could not put it down. The main character finds out as an adult,that his best friend from university, Adam, has written a book about him and he is angry and wants to set the story straight. He contacts Adam by email and facebook and begins to write his story without leaving out the ...more
John Pappas
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Everybody seems to know who Gordon Rankin is or what he should do, except Rankin himself. At least, until now. At forty, Rankin, a history teacher, reads a novel by one of his college buddies, and recognizes quite a bit of himself in one of the characters. Thrust down the rat-hole of memory, Rankin responds in a series of funny, vitriolic and occasionally touching emails to the author. Finally telling his side of the story of what happened between himself and the author years ago, Rankin casts ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Strong 4, maybe even a 4.5. I was absolutely LOVING this for the first half. I loved the tone and the style and the creative storyline (he's writing a book via emails to an old college friend who doesn't respond...haven't we all sent emails off into the netherworld wondering if they'll ever be read?). It was so good I was torn between reading as much as I could but saddened that was bringing me closer to the end of the book.

It seemed to drag a little bit toward the end, hence the 4 stars. The
Aug 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The premise of this book is interesting, but the manner in which is written is all over the place. Its narrative voice jaggedly alternates between first person and third person. Transitions aren’t smooth. The story takes place in the present, but looks back a lot at the past. This swinging motion would have worked better, as would the one sided dialogue had the narrative voice been more consistent. The themes in this book are numerous and because of this, none of them were very extensively ...more
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Write Reads Podcast: Write Reads Episode #4 is now available! 1 8 Feb 11, 2013 10:17AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: The Antagonist Update 3 1 10 Jan 15, 2013 07:25AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: The Antagonist Update 2 1 5 Jan 15, 2013 06:54AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: The Antagonist Update 1 1 5 Dec 11, 2012 05:46PM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: The Antagonist 100% 1 15 Nov 18, 2012 09:52AM  
ELEVEN READER'S CLUB: The Antagonist 80% 1 5 Nov 17, 2012 07:06AM  
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Lynn Coady is an award-winning author, editor, and journalist. Her previous novels include Saints of Big Harbour, which was a national bestseller and a Globe and Mail Top 100 book, and Mean Boy, a Globe and Mail Top 100 book. Her popular advice column, Group Therapy, runs weekly in the Globe and Mail. Coady is originally from Cape Breton Island, NS, and is now living in Edmonton, Alberta.
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“What I'm saying is, a lot of boys don't bother growing into men, because they don't have to--their bodies have already done it and it turns out that's all anybody requires.” 0 likes
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