Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Published: October 8, 2013
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 America–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.
I was inspired to read The Circle because I saw a trailer for the movie, which will star Emma Watson (*fangirls for a second*) and John Boyega, but I was instantly intrigued.
The Circle is the culmination of conspiracy theorists’ worst fears about big tech companies like Google and Facebook having unlimited access to our information.
The main character, Mae Holland, is a twenty-something who absolutely embodies the stereotypical millennial struggle; she’s trying to find a sense of purpose but she refuses to believe that her destiny lies in a cubicle in her hometown.
With the help of her college roommate, Annie, Mae lands a new job at The Circle, the hottest tech company around.
If you’ve ever worked at a tech company, you know what to expect at The Circle: Great pay, superb healthcare benefits, and a seemingly relaxed work environment. They stress how they want their employees to be human. At the same time, employees are expected to complete more work than is probably healthy.
As Mae gets further into her new life as a Circler, we see some obvious connections to companies like Google: Tons of activities on “campus,” perks like free food, even dorms for employees to stay in.
The overarching theme at The Circle is that everyone should know everything. Nothing is private.
Mae develops two love interests throughout the story: Francis and Kalden. Francis pretty much embodies life at The Circle. During he and Mae’s first intimate moment, he records it without her knowledge. Kalden, on the other hand, is mysterious. He has access to areas that other people do not but seems to be concerned about the effect that The Circle’s overreach into privacy may have in the future.
Another layer that Eggers added was that Mae’s parents are struggling with her father’s healthcare. He has multiple sclerosis, and finding care is difficult through their insurance.
Mae takes a wild ride from starting off as a Customer Experience representative to being one of the faces of The Circle.
I found myself hoping throughout the book that she would realize the impact of her decisions — on herself, her family, her friends, and bigger picture things like government.
What frustrated me is that she proved time and time again to be a mindless drone who gave up her principles at the slightest provocation. It sort of felt like a statement about ALL millennials — older generations seem to think we’re mindless, oversharing, easily brainwashed crybabies. That stereotype has always frustrated me because it does not define me or many people I know.
On the other hand, while Mae’s character may not have been fully developed in my opinion, I had to chuckle at just HOW stereotypical she was. I only graduated college about seven years ago, and I remember having the same sense of dread when going to my sales job every day. It just wasn’t for me. So while her character was lacking in some areas, I was drawn in a little by how familiar Mae’s feelings were.
Now, I was particularly interested in this book because I work in social media and marketing, and I know all too well the pros and cons of a world that is actually TOO connected.
Overall though, the plot was relatively predictable and the characters were underdeveloped. I never got the feeling I really knew Mae or anyone else. Even secondary characters felt too obviously like symbols of their cause.
When I finally got to the ending of the book, everything progressed way too fast. There was kind of a slow feel to the book as Mae goes through her life at The Circle, and then suddenly everything was wrapping itself up.
While I struggled with plot predictability throughout the book, I will say the ending surprised me. It left me feeling very creeped out. Without spoiling it, I expected it to go in a totally different direction.
That said, after digesting the ending for a couple days, I found myself thinking that the ending made it feel too much like a soapbox. I’m not sure if I would have liked it better had it gone the way I expected — either way feels like it’s wrapped up too easily, with a nice little bow to boot.
One of my favorite quotes of the book was actually from Mae’s ex-boyfriend, Mercer (who was totally yet another figurehead):
It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food.
Overall, I give The Circle 3/5 stars. It was a great premise, and Eggers built a very convincing world, but the characters and plot overall fell a bit flat for me. I would still recommend it, but don’t go into it expecting the next Brave New World (which is one of my favorite books). Definitely planning on seeing the movie (even if it’s only so I can see the amazing Emma Watson).