The Circle by Dave Eggers
Published by Vintage Books in May 2014
First Vintage Books Edition, 497 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-385-35140-9
I’ll get it out of the way now: I was really disappointed in this book.
I went into The Circle pretty cold. I honestly didn’t even know the basic premise until I happened to see the movie trailer, which is what prompted me to finally get my hands on the novel. I borrowed my roommate’s copy and dove in with only the cinematic preview and the written blurb from the paperback as my references. It really seemed to be my thing: contemporary fiction with some sci-fi and thriller vibes thrown in? I was so down.
If you’re like me and have apparently been living under a rock, here’s the general premise: A young woman, Mae, is hired at a successful tech company in California (basically Super Google) thanks to a powerful connection–her college friend Annie, who is a higher-up employee of some kind. This company, the Circle, seems to do everything. It controls essentially all social media and is responsible for a great deal of new technological growth.
At first this all seems great! Mae finally has a job that makes her feel important, technology has evolved in such a way that crime may soon be close to wiped out, and it is easier than ever before to connect to others. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that things are more complex than they first appear. The story gets a little predictable–technology gets out of hand and the reader is really forced to confront their morals. At what point does surveillance become too much? At what point is our right to privacy breached?
I really did enjoy the book at first. It sucked me right in and I was really intrigued to see how the culture of the Circle would be developed and what specific problems would arise. I really related to Mae–her willingness to please and to learn, her insecurities, her desperation to mean something to the world. I think we can all relate to this to an extent.
I would say referring to this story as a “heart-racing novel of suspense” (as the blurb on my copy does) is really a stretch. I hit a wall with it about halfway through and had to push myself to finish. Everything started to feel really mechanical and scripted to me. The characters felt two-dimensional, I didn’t really have any stake in whether or not they succeeded, and some of the ideas seemed incomplete to me. I felt like we were kind of speeding through everything and a lot of things got lost in the shuffle.
For instance, Mae’s relationship with Francis confounded me. After their initial speedbump, I didn’t really understand his purpose in reappearing. Her passion for kayaking was dropped without a backward glance, and I almost forgot about it entirely. She abruptly started talking about some “tear” inside her, which was never elaborated on or resolved.
Honestly, the more I think about this book, the less I like it. Sure, it had a great deal of potential and we really should consider the moral conundrums unique to the modern digital age. Had the story itself been more fleshed out, I would have absolutely liked it more. As is, it is more of a poorly concealed word of warning than a well-written piece of literature. This may be one of the only time the movie trumps the book for me–but I’ll have to go see it before I decide that.
My final say is: Read The Circle if you’re already interested, but if you’re on the fence don’t go out of your way to read it.