Brief synopsis (Goodreads):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. 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.
Rating: Left behind
Long story short (no spoilers): Imagine if Facebook, Google, and Apple merged into one conglomerate and become Big Brother; that is what The Circle is: a huge tech company slowly taking over all public and private services in the name of open-access and efficiency.
The premise is intriguing because the themes hit close to home—over the last century we have often supported transparency over personal freedoms—but the execution is poorly done and overall the novel is disappointing.
For one, Mae’s character lacks substance. She is a pushover, easily persuaded, completely lacks a spine, and the only thing she wants is to be liked by those she works with and for. Every single decision she makes is an attempt to increase her social standing at the Circle, and she learns nothing from her mistakes. This makes it difficult to care about her and to put ourselves in her shoes, which is a wasted opportunity in a book commenting on individual vs. collective identity. What’s more, as a female protagonist in a largely male-dominated field, Mae’s character does a disservice to women in STEM, and Eggers proves he has no idea how to write a female character. From awkward sex scenes where he says things like “She could think only of a campfire, one small log, all of it doused in milk” to describe premature ejaculation, to creating a persona that encompasses nearly every negative female stereotype (easily manipulated, always worried about what other people think of her, has two men trying to sleep with her (spoiler: they both do), thinks that the 3% of people who gave her low ratings want her dead, has a doe-eyed naivety about everything and willfully swallows BS) make me so angry.
Second, for a “heart-racing novel of suspense”, the setup is weak and the climax predictable. The entire novel focuses solely on all the good things that come from the Circle’s work, such as preventing child abduction, creating a more transparent government, and consolidating medical records. Only in passing (and by that I mean a couple of phrases by Circle employees and one or two monologues by secondary characters) does it mention what could go wrong when one company has access to everybody’s most intimate details. So when Mae is inevitably confronted by the contending idea that what the Circle is doing may not be a good thing, she (and the reader) have no reason to believe it’s true or that it matters, which makes the entire dilemma irrelevant.
Lastly, the novel does not add anything new to a conversation most of us are already having about the limits of technology and social media.We realize that technology is quickly outpacing public policy, and that innovation requires sufficient oversight to prevent privacy and ethical breaches. The Circle, however, breezes through calamitous issues without giving them the consideration they deserve, and provides no serviceable solution or warning for where we are headed. What’s the point of telling us what we already know?
Have you read The Circle or do you plan to watch the movie? Let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you want to know more, keep reading for a spoiler review.