Book - The Circle

The Circle

Is it a case of "what goes around, comes around" as Steve Taylor-Bryant reads The Circle by Dave Eggers...

This book has divided two of us normally in tune with each other. Myself and Nate McKenzie are like twins, albeit I'm the better looking one, and we never disagree. We are so in tune with each other that I genuinely thought we'd go through life skipping hand in hand whilst looking down on everyone and their wrongness but Nate went and ruined that with this short sentence in his review of last year:

"The Circle - It's bad. Just... really terrible."

It's not. It has some flaws and maybe doesn't quite live up to the 'Orwell of the Internet age' tag that some publications gave it but terrible? Oh Nate you've become one of "those" people.

The beauty of 1984 was how on the money it was when you read it with hindsight. Much of what Orwell wrote though was light years away from being accurate at the time meaning Orwell, rightly so, is seen as a visionary. Eggers is not a visionary, deciding instead to take what is happening at this very moment and using artistic exaggeration to create a world that both enthrals and frightens in equal measure.

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.  

The Circle is a company specialising in the power of the Internet and technology. Think Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook and pretty much everyone else all combined in one campus run by three men and their committee, the gang of 40, all very realistic so far if you think about the rate that existing companies are growing at and possible mergers that could occur. The problem as it's seen in the book is one of privacy and openness, this exists already in our technical age, but Eggers puts the arguments for openness and companies and therefore government control front and centre and, quite honestly, as Mae discovers, his arguments are hard to argue against. All my social networking, banking, cultural and commercial needs in one place with one password? As a naturally lazy man that is highly appealing. A chip placed in a child's bone at birth that makes abduction impossible? Or a system that alerts authorities if a child is suffering at the hands of an abuser? Sign me up! I'm a father and I want that and I want that now! If you are one of those people that need celebrity validation in your life or like to view the daily menial tasks of someone else then The Circle has you covered; I don't like people enough for that but am very aware there would be an audience. Political powers open for all to see? Every politician and their staff on camera 24 hours a day? The ugly world of business corruption removed? The advantages go on and on and Dave Eggers makes every single one appeal in his view of utopia. The flaw in Eggers writing is with the opposition. When you make Big Brother look THAT good you need to have a balance and, with very few characters opposed to The Circle come the end, it sort of fails as book and becomes an almost satirical marketing advert but that's not to say that Mae's journey wasn't a good one to read. The other part I didn't enjoy was Eggers' seeming need to have Mae as sexually active as she was. I don't mind what anyone does in their private lives but if you insist in putting the events on the page I feel you should learn to write sexual encounters properly as I cringed every time. It was like my dad had written them as a fumbled way of trying to explain the birds and the bees to me and felt massively out of place.

But to return to Nate's comment. It was a good attempt at showing how frightening the world we currently occupy could become. As a piece of satire it was darn near perfect. Put a couple more convincing characters against the argument and it would have been a perfect book. "It's bad... Just really terrible." No, Nate, "It's good... Just not perfect".

Image - Amazon
Synopsis - Goodreads