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.
Long story long (SPOILERS!!): Oh man, where to begin…there are a number of issues I have with this novel.
- There are several plot lines that lead nowhere and add nothing to the story: Annie forgets all about Mae’s mysterious friend “Kalden”, even after texting her like a paranoid person for several weeks and being certain Kalden is a corporate spy; government officials who were advocating an individual’s right to privacy were “outed” by the Circle for conducting nefarious activity (the implication being that this “evidence” may not have been true).
- None of the characters have strong relationships with one another: Mae and Mercer’s romantic past is full of holes that make their present relationship confusing and hard to follow; Mae and Annie, who were extremely close in college, suddenly have this weird jealously/animosity that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really make sense given that they are both well-liked at the Circle and are not competing for the same job; Francis betrays Mae’s trust by filming and then refusing to delete their sexual encounter, and though she is obviously upset and disturbed by this, she pursues a romantic relationship with him anyway.
- Mae’s romantic relationships in general don’t make sense: Mercer, Francis, and Kalden/Ty have nothing in common; why does it make sense that she is or was attracted to all three of them? You can argue that Mercer was an old ex-boyfriend, and she is a changed person now, but Francis and Kalden/Ty are completely opposite people, and she herself acknowledges that; in that same vein, why are these romantic relationships important? They don’t add any depth or layer to the story, they only make Mae seem naive, clingy, and a mess. Also, Mae seeing Eamon Bailey as a confidante and father-figure when she already has both in her life is weird.
- Ty asking Mae to shut down the Circle is stupid: First, Mae not realizing Kalden and Ty were the same person, despite having seen Ty before, was just dumb. A beanie, hoodie, and glasses do not change someone that dramatically. Second, Ty never told Mae his full name, never confirmed he was a Circle employee or even where he worked, gave her a phone number to call but never picked up, only called her when he needed something (and that too from an unlisted number), never clearly explained why the Circle needed to be stopped, in short did or said NOTHING to make her trust him before asking her to shut his company down. WHY WOULD SHE ENDANGER HER OWN WELLBEING FOR A PRICK SHE DIDN’T KNOW?
I only hope the movie is better than the book…What did you think?