2014 Longlist

A Matter of Life and Death or Something



The big-hearted story of a ten-year-old boy, a notebook and the meaning of the universe.

Even though he’s only ten years old, Arthur Williams knows lots of things for sure. He knows all about trilobites, and bridge, and that he doesn’t want to be Victoria Brown’s boyfriend, and that tapping maple trees causes them excruciating pain. He knows his real dad is probably flying a hot-air balloon across the Pacific, or paving a city with moss. And he knows that Simon, the guy who pretends to be his dad, does absolutely nothing interesting. But when Arthur finds a weather-worn notebook in the woods behind his house, all he has are questions. Why was its author, Phil, so sad, and why does it end on page 43? Suddenly, there are other questions too: Why do people abandon people? Why do they abandon themselves?

Arthur embarks on a top-secret investigation to find out who Phil is – or was. But getting straight answers from grown-ups is impossible, and before long, the only thing he knows for sure is that everything he thought he knew about life is probably wrong and that what he has to do is ten times bigger than what he can do.

Told through a trio of voices: the wildly imaginative and perpetually awkward Arthur, Phil’s manic journal and the forest that watches them both, Ben Stephenson’s debut novel is a heartbreaking story of love, death and the unspeakable pain of being small. A Matter of Life and Death or Something marks the exciting debut of an inventive and gifted storyteller.





Ben Stephenson was born in New Brunswick. He studied fine art it NSCAD University, and lives in Canada. A Matter of Life and Death or Something is his first novel.

Ben Stephenson was born in New Brunswick. He studied fine art it NSCAD University, and lives in Canada. A Matter of Life and Death or Something is his first novel.

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This novel features a creative plot presented by three distinct, yet carefully intersecting voices; a precocious ten year old boy who matures as we read, a disturbed young man who can’t move on, and a timeless forest bearing witness to nearby events. Stephenson delivers his compelling, often humourous, and sometimes heartbreaking narrative with impressive authenticity. While referencing Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, Mark Haddon, Jonathan Safran Foer and others, this is a unique work which has been described as an “exciting debut of an inventive and gifted storyteller”. We are proud to recognize the literary accomplishment of this young local author.


Date published
Douglas and McIntyre


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