Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

The Circle

Copyright 2013 by Dave Eggers

Published by Alfred A. Knopf & Alfred A. Knopf Canada / McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco

“When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.”

– from listing

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of apocalyptic and dystopian stories.  While zombies are my current favourite, I generally love them all; there is something about the end of humanity as we know it that just really engages my imagination.  So I was super excited to read this book, as it promised to be an dystopic type narrative that actually kind of mirrors where some argue our current reality is headed.

The company ‘The Circle’ could obviously be a play on any number of today’s massively popular tech giants: Apple or Google being the choices that jump immediately to mind.  The story of Mae Holland, the newest employee at The Circle, would probably appeal to a huge number of young people who come out of college or university and aren’t quite sure what they want to do with their careers but they know they don’t want to sit behind a conventional desk 9-5.  Today’s generation wants a different kind of career, and employment with one of the progressive and generous techie companies probably falls high on many people’s lists of ideal employers (anyone who recalls hearing about the fantastical Google campus, where employees can do everything from playing squash to doing their laundry, will know what I’m talking about).

I was also highly intrigued by a story that promised to explore some very pertinent and timely issues.  At a time when your Facebook profile seems to predict your major life events even before they happen (why are you getting ads for maternity clothes so soon after just being married?  How do the Facebook ads know you need to lose 10 pounds?), I read The Circle hoping to really explore the moral and ethical questions surrounding the increasing technological encroachment on our lives: Privacy, state surveillance, our reliance on the faux-interactions of social media in place of actual face-to-face human relationships.

The story begins in a promising fashion; Mae’s first day on the job at The Circle.  Mr. Eggers is a wonderfully descriptive storyteller, and I was able to easily imaginein my mind the settings he creates for his characters.  I also initially found Mae to be a likeable young woman and I was prepared to root for her throughout the upcoming roller coaster she seemed to be heading for.

Unfortunately, as the story progressed I found myself just not buying it.  I’m not sure if it was the dialogue that I found to be unrealistic, or if the author just failed to really develop all the facets of Mae’s character.  I finished the book not really liking Mae but not really caring about her either.  And what I had hoped would be a suspenseful and morally challenging story turned out to be, in my opinion, just rather…. meh.  Stuff happened but it really didn’t surprise or shock me that much.  There were a few sequences where this was not the case, but overall I just wasn’t as invested as I had hoped to be.

The strong points of the story were definitely the creative and detailed examples of where technology might be heading and how it has become so completely interwoven into our lives; for the most part they were thought-provoking and entertaining.  But for me it just wasn’t enough to overcome my lack of engagement with the characters themselves.

This book appears to be getting generally great reviews, so don’t take my word for it – if you are like me and are interested in these types of stories than I do recommend you read The Circle; just perhaps borrow it from the library rather than spending fifteen hard-earned dollars to add it to your bookcase.  🙂



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