Ida's English Reading Corner · Science Fiction

Review | ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers (2013)

We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? You people are creating a world of ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. – p. 430

Honestly, I do have mixed feelings about this book. First of all, I really, really wanted to like it, not only because it was most warmly recommended to me by a follow book blogger (hey there, Lea-Sophie!), but also because the story itself sounded absolutely thrilling to me:

When Mae 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. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – 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 …

I liked the concept of a company that strives towards perfection, towards the ultimate, transparent connection between people and slowly, yet steadily works itself into becoming a totalitarian system with hardly anyone noticing. This storyline had so much potential and it really made me think about my own habits as a social media user – and about how thoughtlessly we offer the world bits and pieces of ourselves, giving it up to the masses where any information about you can be used at goodwill by others. It was interesting to see how The Circle functions and how people working there really want to believe in a perfect working and living environment. But some things were just too much for my liking: parties and events at the end of the workday which were per se voluntarily, but made a big deal of when one didn’t attend or there was no digital proof (i.e. pictures, posts, etc.) that one actually was there. When Mae was first scolded by not participating enough and not ‘caring’ enough (i.e. posting, liking and sharing posts, connecting with others via zings …) I thought to myself: GIRL, why don’t you just get up and leave? YES, she gets all these goodies at work and gets payed really well, YES she gets phenomenal health care, YES her parents get medical support – but is that really worth it?

My main problem with this book was Mae herself. That is something that bothered me from an early stage of the book: I could not muster an ounce of sympathy for Mae Holland, not once during that entire read. I just could not believe how she could be so blind, naive and ignorant towards anything and anyone. Maybe if she was a teenage girl who hasn’t had much experiences yet, you could give her personality traits a pass, thinking she might eventually outgrow it. But quite the opposite is the case: she is a young woman at the beginning of adulthood who has some years of work experience, caring parents and is bent on using all of her potential towards climbing the career ladder at The Circle, because what she craves most is acknowledgement by others and to be recognized seems to be her one and only goal. At the same time, she is terribly unsure of herself and her own potential, seeing that she constantly wonders whether she only got the job because of her best friend Annie, who is kind of a big fish at The Circle.  Mae acts and behaves simply ignorant, and, what’s more, like a trained puppet. Her stupidity (sorry for those harsh words, but it practically slapped me in the face every few pages) and ignorance either made me cringe really bad or fed my rising frustration. But somehow, if you think about it, maybe Mae was never intended to be very likeable for the purpose of the story and was used by the author to show how a totaltarian system is enabled to work – i.e. by people who share an extreme view and hype each other up, until everyone who voices concern about their views is considered dumb and not able to see the possibilites of technology.

Another thing that I feel obliged to mention in this review is that as much as I love and appreciate any foreshadowing or metaphors, I really didn’t like the unsubtlety of how they were built into the story. It sounds like complaining about first world problems, but it really bothered me. That way, things got really transparent and eventual plot twists or surprises fell short (which also made me think it might have been wanted that way, since transparency is an aspect that is aspired in order to create perfection not only in The Circle but worldwide, while bringing forth other problems – but maybe that is just me over-interpreting.)

What I was impressed about, though, was the way the author worked Mae’s opinion into the narrator’s voice, so that you as reader had that biased and sometimes heavily ignorant view of the main character acting as if it was the truth and luring the reader into her perspective. At the end, that changed a bit and in a really subtle way, which I really liked. Speaking of the ending: If the author had chosen a different outcome, it would have left me way more frustrated than I already was. That way it fitted the whole storyline and was, somehow, the only ending that – at least to me – seemed logical. And in the way it left me (picture me: pale face, sick to my stomach), it was the perfect ending for that story and it definitely left a mark and something to think about.

I have never read a book that left me with such a rich palette of mixed feelings. Although there were aspects I didn’t like too much or caused high levels of frustration, this book still was very enjoyable and its message is more than important: maybe because the story is about a fictional world that seems alarmingly real to the world that we live in right now. In my opinion, it is crucial to think about what happens to the data you share. Ask yourself: who profits from it? It’s like my boyfriend always says: nothing is really for free, especially on the internet and when it comes to personal data.

Have you read ‘The Circle’ or seen the adaptation of it starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson? If so, I would love to know what your thoughts were after reading/watching it! Would you agree with my review or do you have a different view on the story? Tell me in the comments below and have a wonderful day!

Author:   Dave Eggers
Title:       The Circle
Press:      Penguin Books
Year of publication: 2013
Pages:      491
[Genre:    Science Fiction – Dystopian]

One thought on “Review | ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers (2013)

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