The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013) Review
The Circle is an uncompromising vision of the future. It begins by introducing the reader to Mae Holland, who at the start is visiting the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company which hosts top-notch technology. With the help of her friend Annie, Mae is hired to work for the Circle starting out in Customer Experience (CE), the firm’s customer service department, but sooner quickly climbs the company ladder. After a strange encounter with a colleague, Mae starts to find out secrets about the Circle that leave her shaken and that may affect the reputation of the company if publicly revealed.
There are a lot of good narrative surprises in this novel, and I don’t really want to ruin it for anyone. It would be best to start this read without researching too much about it. Other than the initial synopsis, all that one really needs to know is that it is an unsentimental piece of fiction, raising questions about privacy breach and the limits of human knowledge. It takes these two ideas and mashes it up to create a genre-defining work that at times feels prophetic due to unprecedented parallels with this novel and modern society. This is a solid novel that does so much with a ”What if?”idea.
With this “What if?” idea, the novel expands the basic genre premise and takes it further. That being said, this work’s strongest aspects are its themes. It looks on familiar tropes with new eyes, starting out as a novel about one woman’s ambition and idealism but sooner becomes a thought-provoking read about the information we disseminate to others with bits and pieces of heart-racing suspense. The premise and the themes are great, the possibility of this happening in the near future being very high. It’s easy to believe the ideas, but to suspend my belief with the characters? No.
These characters are terrifically dull. With a premise as great as this, one would expect the characters to be interesting as well. It turns out that I didn’t care for any single one of them. Not just that, but for people who work at a company such as the Circle, their actions and decisions are extremely stupid. Again, I wouldn’t want to reveal anything, but let’s just say that a scene involving Mae and a camera made me shake my head so hard. The mysterious antagonist never had a sense of danger within him, Bailey felt like a computer, Annie felt like the quintessential best friend side-kick, and the love interests, Francis and Mercer, were there for the sake of, well, love. The characters never had any substantial depth within them; they all felt like cut-outs. Also, I admire Egger’s writing for describing the functionary details of the Circle, but the sex scenes? They’re bad. All of them. It made me feel nauseous as none of it really mattered and the prose he used to describe it felt way off that it’s easy to laugh at.
Again, the premise saves it all. I can easily give this a lower rating, but the way this novel explored the idea of private vs. public and social media when it’s taken too far definitely held my interest despite the dumb and boring characters. The way the book also raises the stakes was interesting, though it felt predictable as well. It’s easy to guess the Kalden “twist”, but the direction the author took at the end was my favorite part. It also felt like the perfect outcome, the most realistic one as well. In all, I actually found more flaws in this novel (especially the characterization), so I was obliged to give this a lower rating, but the core idea of this novel is just fantastic, laying down big questions that come along with modern technology in a corrupted society, continuing to provoke thought as it studies a world that no longer belonged to humanity.