The Circle by Dave Eggers. McSweeney’s, 2013.
So I read The Circle.
The Circle is about an early-20-something named Mae who gets hired at the biggest, baddest tech company in Silicon Valley: the Circle. Imagine that Google and Facebook had a baby and basically owned all the information on the internet. That’s the Circle. As you might imagine, this becomes a
bit of a dystopian novel.
I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about the things I like about the book: I enjoyed the fact that this novel wasn’t dystopian in the traditional sense of the genre. Normally, you’re introduced to a dystopian society already established and learn of its history and culture as the story unfolds. In this book, we are firmly planted in the real world, but on the edge of a potential tip into a dystopic world. It’s almost like a how-a-dystopia-gets-made story rather than a straight-up dystopian novel. I thought that was unique and enjoyed that particular reading experience. In a way, this is more effective than a traditional dystopian novel because it shows the transitional period from our world to the new one, making the threat all the more grounded in reality and therefore all the more terrifying.
I liked the general concept of the book as a whole, including the message it’s grounded in and the nucleus of the situation as a giant tech company. The Circle has obvious parallels to companies like Facebook and Google, who provide employees with everything from tennis courts, to music concerts, to dorm rooms on their campuses for employee enjoyment/brainwashing so they never have to leave campus. Outside the Circle, the general public is obsessed social media/information sharing under the veneer of convenience. But of course, what at first seem to be brilliant inventions for the advancement of society become horrific breaches of personal privacy and the monopolization of all information in the hands of the Circle. This book takes the phrase “Pics or it didn’t happen” to a whole new level. Mae, the bright-eyed new hire and protagonist of the story, gets swept up in this world of constant progress and ends up becoming the Circle’s brainwashed poster child, while everything we normal humans consider the most important things in life (family and friends) suffer in her wake.
So it’s a cool concept.
But the execution was so poor I have to give it 2 stars.
There are obvious parallels to Orwell’s 1984 in this book. The idea of constant surveillance is alive and well in this dystopia-in-the-making, and the Circle even ends up coming up with their own slogans that get memorized and plastered around campus that celebrate their flawed ideologies. Even if you haven’t read any Orwell but are familiar with the general gist of his work, you’ll spot the parallels. Ok, cool, we can modernize 1984, that’ll be interesting. But what ruined it completely for me was how hard and how constant Eggers bashed you in the face with the message of the book. It was tiresome and frustrating.
I like Eggers. This is the 4th book of his I’ve read. But this one was just… bad. There was no subtlety whatsoever in this book. Even the attempt at symbolizing the Circle with the transparent shark thing in the aquarium was so blatant, it made me cringe. He basically waves a giant red flag at the reader and writes in all caps: LOOK AT HOW THE TRANSPARENT SHARK EATS EVERYTHING IN THE TANK UP AND YOU WATCH IT GET DIGESTED. IT’S JUST LIKE HOW THE CIRCLE DEVOURS EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE WATCHES IT DIE. SEE WHAT I DID THERE!? I DID A SYMBOLISM!
I’ve don’t normally feel this way about other dystopian novels. Books like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 are able to balance the story with their critiques of society. The critique of social media in The Circle is so flagrant, it’s annoying as hell. And unfortunately, the plot would have been decent were it not littered with soap-box moments trying to disguise themselves as plot points. (This is also why I didn’t like Animal Farm. That book is even more blatant than The Circle… I’m seeing a pattern in my reading tastes here…)
So in short, the book would be great if it had any sense of subtlety. Instead, it felt like reading a polemic sloppily disguised as a story. Not to mention the god-awful sex scenes. Seriously, the sex scenes in this book were so terribly written, I laughed out loud at points that were clearly not meant to be funny.
The movie version comes out in 2017 and stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. I’m mildly interested in seeing it because I honestly think it may make a better film if they cut the soap-boxing and just stick to the plot, which as I said, is decent. But as for the book, 2 stars.