A Matter of Life and Death or Something: by Ben Stephenson – Book Review

In the first few chapters of Ben Stephenson’s A Matter of Life and Death or Something, I was reminded of what I understood the world to be when I was a child. I thought my perception of the universe; adulthood and relationships reflected the truth of how the world revolves and functions. Typical of most children, and much like Arthur Williams, I was unappreciative of caring gestures from adults. The resentment I had towards adults never occurred to me until I started A Matter of Life and Death or Something. Through the ten-year-old protagonist, readers are exposed to another perspective of the world, possibly one that has always existed in our minds but was never brought into clear vision.

A Matter of Life and Death or Something marks the debut of Ben Stephenson, a Canadian writer born in New Brunswick. Although the novel was written in the voice of a ten year old, Stephenson manages to insinuate his chain of thoughts without difficulty. Due to the fact that the novel is mostly written in the voice of Arthur the vocabulary and wordings are simple, yet straight forward.  Despite the simple structure of the novel, Arthur’s imaginative and creative thoughts trigger critical thinking and bring new insight of how the world functions.

For a child, Arthur Williams is confident about his knowledge. Through the letters that he exchanges with his aunt, it is apparent that Arthur is an arrogant child and an inch away from being a narcissist.  He believes that he is very capable of taking care of himself and is also competent enough to handle his own thoughts, he thinks of himself as an equal to his elders. Reading how he interacts with his elders, it is difficult to not think that he acts superior to his father and aunt. His conceited demeanour comes out in the way that he questions the abilities of his father, Simon.  His resentment towards Simon is to the point where he is convinced that his true father is elsewhere, possibly traveling via hot-air balloon.

The story initiates with Arthur finding an old journal left in the woods. He becomes curious of who Phil is and commits himself on a journey to search for him. The journal not only pulls him out on a journey, but allows for Arthur to suddenly be exposed to questions that he has never thought of. The journal is almost like a door for Arthur; he opens it and becomes aware of things that never occurred to him. It had never occurred to him to think of how little he could do and how little control he had as a ten year old.

The plot of the novel was original and interesting. Ben Stephenson did a phenomenal job of expressing his ideas through the voice of a child.  The character development of Arthur was absolutely thorough. The transition of Arthur from the start until finish was impressive and I found Arthur’s character very relatable. I’d like to believe that everyone had a rebellious period during some point of their childhood, whoever remembers how it felt can definitely relate to the protagonist and understand the insight that Stephenson attempts to bring out. Overall, this novel was quite enjoyable, it was not an enticing thriller nor was it a tearjerker, but the story was attractive for its simple yet creative plot about growing up and maturing.