Reward System by Jem Calder review – slaves to the algorithm

Six interlinked stories from a superb new writer about young Londoners and their smartphone addictions

In recent years, much of the most innovative work in the anglophone short story has come from Ireland, from writers such as Colin Barrett, Wendy Erskine and Nicole Flattery. New debut collections by gifted British authors Saba Sams and Gurnaik Johal have shown the unmistakable influence of their Irish peers. The publication of Reward System by Cambridge-born Jem Calder provides further evidence that the medium is attracting some of the most talented young writers of fiction at work today, on both sides of the Irish sea.

Strictly speaking, Reward System isn’t quite a short story collection. It’s a book of six tales, most of which are slightly interlinked through the reappearance of two main characters, and one of which – about an assistant chef in a restaurant kitchen who has an affair with her older boss – is long enough to be classed as a novella. But as up-to-date as these stories feel, Reward System belongs firmly in the tradition of fictional miniaturism: Calder’s stories are all granular portraits of micro-interactions between people in ostensibly mundane settings, tapped out on six inches of LCD glass.

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