The Case of Lena S.

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The Case of Lena S. follows the life, loves, and coming-of-age of sixteen-year-old Mason Crowe during a year in which he will learn what it truly means to be in the world. At the centre of the novel is Lena, a troubled girl who has "chosen" Mason and will teach him something of desire and despair. Impulsive, provocative, vulnerable, and sad, Lena becomes haunting for Mason in ways he does not always understand. We meet Mason's first "love," an older girl destined for an arranged marriage; his mother, who takes a ...
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Overview

The Case of Lena S. follows the life, loves, and coming-of-age of sixteen-year-old Mason Crowe during a year in which he will learn what it truly means to be in the world. At the centre of the novel is Lena, a troubled girl who has "chosen" Mason and will teach him something of desire and despair. Impulsive, provocative, vulnerable, and sad, Lena becomes haunting for Mason in ways he does not always understand. We meet Mason's first "love," an older girl destined for an arranged marriage; his mother, who takes a lover; and a wise and erudite blind man with a voyeuristic streak, to whom Mason reads. Playful, and with deadpan humour, the novel brilliantly captures the yearnings of youth, as well as the tantalizing possibilities and the confounding absurdities that sometimes lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“It is impossible not to compare David Bergen’s new novel to the work of Richard Ford.….A magical piece of writing. . . . It is taut, affecting and lovely, one of those wonderful works that bears reading and rereading and that in its hard crystalline prose does everything right.”
Calgary Herald

“A heart-breaking account of an adolescent adrift in a world with no boundaries.… This novel is the best yet from a writer who specializes in that rare novelistic skill these days, the depiction of character. In this case, Bergen’s evocation of the innocent joined with the sinister is unforgettable.”
Toronto Star

“Enthralling.… A trenchant and thought-provoking work of fiction.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“A deeply beautiful book.”
Edmonton Journal

“Compelling.… An exploration of the quiet desperation of teenagers on the edge of adulthood.…”
Globe and Mail

“David Bergen sounds nary a false note in his latest precise, challenging novel.”
Toronto Star

“Bergen’s story of 16-year-old Mason Crowe explores the mystery of coming of age: how it happens and, equally important, what happens when the process goes awry.”
Hamilton Spectator

“Bergen’s psychological portraits are accurate and passionately observed.”
–Jury citation, Governor General’s Awards

“His excellent writing [has] piquancy and nuance.…”
Quill & Quire

“Spare, lucid, haunting and overlaid with melancholy. . . . It’s a terrific performance.… Bergen is simply too good and too clear-eyed a writer to ever circle around the truth of his subject. His subject here, the emotional and physical lives of teenagers, is revealed as both sad and perplexing.… A deeply beautiful book.”
Edmonton Journal

“Goes well beyond the traditional coming-of-age chronicle to pose problems of loss and rejection and to set these questions against the uncertainties of young adulthood.… The book is well written and insightful and captures the clamour, chaos and fractured idiom of youth as it passes into adulthood. As a commentary on the priorities of the young, The Case of Lena S. ranks high indeed.”
London Free Press

“Bergen’s language flows and his descriptions are tantalizing.”
FFWD

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771011894
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 9/17/2002
  • Pages: 296

Meet the Author

David Bergen is the author of three highly acclaimed novels: A Year of Lesser (1996), a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award; See the Child (1999); and, most recently, The Case of Lena S. (2002), winner of the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. He is also the author of a collection of short fiction, Sitting Opposite My Brother (1993), which was a finalist for the Manitoba Book of the Year. A section from The Case of Lena S. was chosen for Toronto Life’s Summer Fiction issue in 2000. Bergen won the CBC Literary Prize for Fiction the same year.

David Bergen lives in Winnipeg.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The title of the novel promises a mystery. Is Lena herself the mystery, or is Mason Crowe’s quest about something larger, more complex? Does Mason ever experience the satisfaction of solving the mystery? What does he know by the end of the novel that he doesn’t at the beginning?

2. Lena is a compelling love object: elusive, unpredictable, attractive, and highly sexual. What do you think is at the core of her mental disturbance? Why does she behave the way she does, especially where Mason is concerned? Is it her self-proclaimed madness that most attracts Mason, or is it his refusal to believe she’s mad that keeps him hanging on?

3. The family unit functions on two distinct levels in this story. Parents have varying levels of interest in/control over their children. Siblings often act as protectors, messengers, and traitors. Discuss the themes of betrayal, fidelity, and nurturing in terms of the family dynamics in the novel.

4. Is Lena a character for whom it’s easy to feel compassion? Did you feel a sense of foreboding about her that foretold the story’s end, or did you, like Mason, hope for a different turn of events? Was there any other possible path for Lena? What would have delivered her from her fate?

5. The novel begins with an epigraph from Søren Kierkegaard that points out how easily one can lose track of one’s Self without realizing it. Is selfish behaviour essential to the preservation of identity? Is Lena the most selfish character in the book? Who is the least selfish?

6. What is the function of the footnotes? Did you find them humorous, helpful in terms of character insight? Distracting?

7. In Part Two of the book, it’s stated that Lena “chose” Mason. Yet we’re also told that Mason initially chose Lena in order to get over/forget Seeta. Is “choice” a component of obsessive love, in that we choose to ignore our instincts as the obsession intensifies? Do both parties have equal agency in this particular relationship? For example, does Mason, by virtue of his sanity, have more power than Lena, or is it the other way around?

8. Passivity and stasis are important themes. Which of the characters are able to transcend stasis in pursuit of greater happiness/contentment most successfully? How do they do this? Did you find the male characters to be more passive than the female characters? What constitutes progressive action within the text?

9. Mason is surrounded by many different examples of romantic love. His own first love, Seeta Chahal, agrees to an arranged marriage, wherein she will learn to love a complete stranger. Mason’s mother is unfaithful to his father and ultimately leaves him for another man, while Mason’s brother, Danny, is a player who isn’t above seducing Mason’s own romantic prospects. The blind Mr. Ferry whom Mason reads to has likewise been abandoned by his wife. Later in the novel, Mason’s father tells Lena that “. . . there are things more important than love. Not greater . . . just more important.” After all that Mason has witnessed and experienced, do you feel that Mason would agree with his father? To what is his father referring?

10. Mr. Ferry, because of his literal blindness, may be a kind of ironic seer or guide for Mason. Why does Mason decide to stop reading to him? Is it because Mason can’t bear the intensity of Mr. Ferry’s intuition, or does he simply need to change everything about his life in order to move forward/away from Lena?

11. Who do you think Mason will become later in life? Will his memories of Lena impact his future choices in terms of who he loves?

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