Steven Langdon's Reviews > The Antagonist

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
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's review
Nov 22, 2011

really liked it
Read in October, 2011

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 by deWitt and Coady are especially dominated by this focus on violence.

"The Antagonist," by Lynn Coady, sets its violence in the more agonized context. While Eli Sisters manages to overcome his doubts about killing fairly readily, Coady's Gord Rankin has his whole world overwhelmed and devastated by the physical force he unleashes on others, despite his efforts to counter the violent directions in which social expectations and family pressures push him. In a book that traces his gradually developing insights into himself, and his struggle to confront honestly the experiences that have shaped him, Rankin emerges as a complex and multilayered man, far more fully realized than the characters in deWitt. Coady's book is the one novel set in Canada in this year's list (a foreign locus that has led to much commentary.) But "The Antagonist" has a depth and universality that could well have led to a Man Booker nomination as well (as with Edugyan.)
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