Reward System by Jem Calder - review by Nicholas Harris

Nicholas Harris

Kiss Me Through the Phone

Reward System


Faber & Faber 304pp £14.99

The overwhelming mood of this collection of stories is one of wintry alienation. Jem Calder’s interlinked cast is the economic precariat of twenty-something urbanites: underemployed graduates, office-job-to-office-job drifters and defeated singletons. They lead self-conscious, lonely lives, sliding past each other, their attempts at human connection never quite successful. We know little about them beyond their names, and sometimes not even that: ‘Distraction from Sadness is Not the Same Thing as Happiness’, a devastating account of a brief relationship that begins on Tinder, couples together a nameless ‘male user’ and ‘female user’. But all Calder’s characters struggle with feelings of anonymity in some way, and his best writing explores the social spaces between them, their strained silences and thwarted intimacies.

‘A Restaurant Somewhere Else’, the opening story and the longest, sets the tone, chronicling the fleeting romance of Julia, a sous-chef at a ‘pan-European’ restaurant, with a senior colleague, Ellery. Calder’s precise and perfectly balanced sentences acutely convey his characters’ absolute disaffection with their world. This is Julia

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter