Book Review | The Circle, by Dave Eggers
It was rather obvious what Dave Eggers was imagining when he began developing the novel The Circle. It’s something I think we all consider in this day and age. We’re living in an age of social media and public presence, in which people spend countless hours documenting their lives on the internet and observing the lives of others. What happens when you take that logic to the ultimate conclusion?
What happens when privacy ceases to be a right?
I initially heard of The Circle last summer when Austyn mentioned it briefly in her overview of Dave Eggers as one of the most accessible of his books. I’ve been a hater of Dave Eggers since I first picked up A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and found a pretentious jerk babbling about how awesome and misunderstood he was.
I can see where Austyn was coming from now with The Circle being accessible. It’s definitely less off-putting, that’s for sure. It’s more of a straightforward novel; I even had the thought throughout that it could be considered YA because it lacks the complexity to really be literary fiction. The story was a little predictable to me, but it does make it pretty digestible (and one that I happened to binge read over the course of two days).
After nearly a year of mulling about Austyn’s recommendation, I started seeing the movie trailer for The Circle popping up everywhere.
What book lover can resist a movie with Emma Watson, right?
I didn’t want to let this one pass me by. Time to jump on reading the novel before the movie was everywhere and I couldn’t escape knowing exactly what happened.
From the trailer, I assumed that Emma Watson played a hero. Whoops!
Emma takes on the role of Mae Holland, the narrator of The Circle. Mae takes a position at the fictional company the Circle (::cough:: Google ::cough::), where she feels she’s been granted a huge opportunity to be part of something bigger.
Although Mae starts out an optimistic, ambitious, and thoughtful young woman, she quickly gets sucked into the world of the Circle; gradually becoming subsumed by the corporate philosophies and demands of total transparency and perfection. It is heartbreaking to watch an idealistic young woman get increasingly lonely as she strives to be the kind of citizen the Circle demands.
But Eggers narrative is far from nuanced.
In an age where Black Mirror has taken the world by storm (if you haven’t seen this TV show, it’s really uncomfortable social commentary on how the internet affects us – mostly in bad ways), The Circle felt really underdeveloped. It was such a straightforward message, it felt like something that involved very little thought or development.
Maybe I’d give it credit, if – like some of the most impressive writing on artificial intelligence like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – it was written in the 1960s. Sure, then Eggers should get the same credit Robert Heinlein does for some complex thinking on a world he can’t even begin to imagine.
But no, The Circle was published in 2013.
That’s two years after the first season of Black Mirror came out. At this point, we’ve all had a “deep” conversation with friends about what the world would look like if Google took over completely. I tend toward thinking Google would be a benevolent overlord.
Apparently Eggers is the guy in the bar who thinks Google isn’t the altruistic beast that we think it is.
Fair. Worthy of literary praise? No.
Now, I can’t just leave it there. This was a hugely engaging read.
And the ending did surprise me (hoping they don’t change it for the film). If you’re at all interested, I say go for it. It’s a fun read, on an interesting topic. Just don’t be too surprised if you see major plot points coming from miles and miles away.
Summary TL;DR: Google takes over the world. Privacy is more important than we realize. Eggers gets too much credit here.