What if the internet had the power to take over the world as we know it? If you’re over a certain age you’re probably thinking that it already has taken over the world, with the kids these days glued to their technology. But, it could get way worse and Dave Eggers shows us how with his tenth novel, The Circle. I really did want to enjoy this novel. I mean, science fiction thrown into a blender with a thriller, what’s not to like? There were just too many loose ends, cheap characters and jarring metaphoric concepts for me to immerse myself completely.
The Circle follows Mae Holland, a woman in her twenties, as she starts a new job at the world’s most powerful technology company. The Circle has created a heavily internet based world. Every account such as your banking, social media, e-mail and just generally everything you do is in one place called TruYou. Her best friend Annie got her the job that saved her from her previous dead-end office job. Mae starts at the bottom of the company and climbs her way up the ladder with nothing more than happy coincidences. The book is split into two parts. The first part of the book is about Mae fitting in with the company and the second part is at a point where Mae is in deep.
In the beginning of the story Mae appears to be a strong willed character but as we travel further into the story we can see that it’s not necessarily the case. Normally, I would roll my eyes at a woman portrayed as overtly daft but in this case it seems to work. Because Mae willingly lets herself get pushed around by people at The Circle, she practically opens her arms to it. Not only that but the company and its technological advances seem to be the answer to her problems.
It occurred to her, in a moment of sudden clarity, that what had always caused her anxiety, or stress, or worry, was not any one force, nothing independent and external- it wasn't danger to herself or the constant calamity of other people and their problems. It was internal: it was subjective: it was not knowing.
The Circle was a ride from start to finish, the initial character and plot set up was interesting but it got lost and blurry in the middle. The focus changed, the main point of the story was thrown in too late. It pulled me out of the story completely and it wouldn’t have been so jarring if the set up wasn’t so long. It was a major failed attempt at the thriller aspect of the novel. But on the contrary, the ending tied (mostly) everything together and briefly made the novel forgivable.
The best part of the novel for me was the cringe, which sounds bad but hear me out. The aspect of community is prominent, especially in the first half when Mae is finding a sense of belonging. Her actions are unintentionally against the company so she is asked into the boss’ office. The hassle from the boss mixed with Mae’s cluelessness is so well contrasted. It almost makes me want to reach in to the novel and rescue her. The cringe comes in with the emphasis on social networking and what the boss’ say about it. It’s all borderline stalking and it’s quite interesting to read how anyone can fall for it.
Suffering is only suffering if it's done in silence, in solitude. Pain experienced in public, in view of loving millions, was no longer pain. It was communion.
Characters in The Circle is something else that was a major problem. Mae’s ex-boyfriend, Mercer, is the cheapest character I’ve encountered in my reading travels (and I’ve read a lot of books.) He lives in Mae’s hometown and still has a close relationship with her parents, which while that may be odd it’s the least of the problems. He’s a social outcast and doesn’t believe in what The Circle is doing to society. So, as an opposite force, he is a needed character but I don’t know if that makes better or worse. The problem with Mercer is that his dialogue is ridiculous, while it may be in character it’s overly expository and too put together for someone speaking off the cuff. He was the only voice of reason and had some fun quotes but it just didn't work.
You know how you finish a bag of chips and you hate yourself? You know you’ve done nothing good for yourself. That’s the same feeling, and you know it is, after some digital binge. You feel wasted and hollow and diminished.
Would I recommend The Circle? Yes and no, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in dystopian futures. Or rather, how one starts. It just wouldn’t be with enthusiasm, and it would have to be someone who has already read 1984 and A Brand New World. It’s not that I hated The Circle, I enjoyed the concept but it’s a real shame when you enjoy the concept more than the novel. If anything, it showed me the potential dangers that the internet has. But does that really offer anything new to the conversation?
By Dave Eggers
$45.99 hc, 504pp, 978-0-385-35139-3