The Circle by Dave Eggers


My God, Mae thought.

– Opening sentence

Set in the not-too-distant future, The Circle follows the story of Mae – a young girl who works at the most powerful and influential company in the world. That company is known by billions as the Circle.

Imagine Facebook, Google and Apple combining to become one internet power-house. That’s the Circle (although Eggers claims they’re NOT the inspiration behind the book). Originating as a social media platform, the Circle is now at the fore-front of technology, with billions of users around the world.

User’s profiles are now linked with their emails, banking and purchasing, resulting in one transparent online identity.

Sound familiar?

But with a bottomless pit of money at their disposal, and the minds of hundreds of creatives coming up with a variety of never-ending ideas, the Circle is developing new technologies and programmes without pausing for thought.

Suddenly the globe is covered in live-streaming cameras (SeeChange), children are being chipped from birth (TruYouth) and government officials are becoming ‘transparent’.

The results are dramatically reduced levels of crime, an accountable government and easy access to remote corners of the globe.

The Circle are paving the way for a transparent world with truth and knowledge – created and accessible by all.

But what happens to those who want to live a quiet, peaceful life?

The Circle at once stole my attention as something special. Following a similar path as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Huxley’s Brave New WorldThe Circle addresses issues of privacy, morality and humanity through chillingly realistic examples that could easily appear in our near-future (indeed, some of them have happened already).

However, after an initial strong start I felt myself becoming at first disappointed, and then plain bored in the middle pages of this book.

Mae Holland is an interesting character, and as a newbie at the Circle it is interesting to see how her personal feelings and ambitions start so contrastingly to the Circle’s, and how she struggles initially with the overwhelming pressure from her co-workers to document and interact with everything and everyone.

But yet, not once did I care about her weird-love-triangle-thing she had going with ‘Mr Safe’ (aka the boring choice Francis) and ‘Mr Unsafe’ (aka the mysterious silver fox Kalden) who she flits between for many a chapter.

It’s not that I’m a prude or anything – it’s just that I knew that it was merely a side plot; Eggers didn’t make me care enough.  And if I’m honest, I just found these encounters annoying.

I do get that Francis and Kalden were supposed to represent Mae’s internal dilemma; the confliction between the open ideology of the Circle and her own secretive lifestyle. I get that.

But personally I’d have enjoyed the book and Mae’s character just as much (and possibly more) if these fleeting and needless lustful/cringeworthy encounters hadn’t been present.

Towards the end, as the Circle works hard to “close the circle” and work towards a 100% open and transparent democracy, the book starts getting interesting again. Mae finds herself in an increasing position of power and influence, presenting the reader with a variety of conflicting ideas and opinions on the topic of humanity.

The only problem is that it took way too long to get there. There’s definitely an issue with the pacing of The Circle, which took me between phases of “Holy shit this is awesome!” to “When will this book end already?”

Overall, I can’t help but be slightly disappointed by The Circle. It had the potential to be amazingly good, but ultimately fell short. And when you’re being compared with Orwell and Huxley, you can’t afford to be anything less than amazing.

However, that’s not to say The Circle isn’t a good read. It’s disturbingly relevant, clever and inventive – all traits that make for a compelling read.

It did get me thinking about our sense of humanity and balance as a collective, as well as my sense of humanity and balance – and where the differences lie.

And any book that makes me think about the world, and about myself, deserves praise.

The world deserved nothing less and would not wait.

– Final sentence

3 Stars (3 / 5)

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