The Circle by Dave Eggers, published May 2014 by Penguin Books.
Read: July 2017
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: When Mae 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. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – 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…
The Book Review
I’d heard about this book for quite a while before I finally decided to pick it up, the final push being the release of the movie adaptation, of the same name, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. As a big fan of both actors, I was all over it, but in typical Book Geek fashion – I wanted to read the book before watching the movie.
Originally published in 2013, Eggers book strikes at a time when the plot of The Circle really isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, which makes it both an incredibly interesting read, and a genuine concern for the future.
While the book is relatively simple in terms of complexity of language, the lingering questions and thoughts you are left with as a reader are not so easy to comprehend. It is a minefield – at what point does technology for the purposes of human benefit and technological advancement encroach on an individual’s right to privacy? How do we ensure that we think critically without succumbing to mass psychology and smart marketing? How can we trust that those at the helm are using the technology for the “right” reasons? Impossible questions to answer, and although raised somewhat by the text, questions that Egger doesn’t attempt to answer either.
The plot of the book is enticing for us all, as it plucks a young woman from relative obscurity, working a standard 9-5 job, and throws her into the exciting world of exploding tech start-ups, where you can earn a small fortune by being a social media influencer, and where attending on-site concerts is considered part of your job. It’s the kind of culture tech giants like Google, Apple, and Netflix have become known for.
The premise of The Circle sits with the reader quite comfortably, because most of it is a small hop, skip, and teeny jump away from where we are today in terms of the companies currently out there and the technology available. The set-up and story-line I found really enjoyable, and it made me want to keep coming back for more.
However, Mae is a difficult character, who is not only hard to like, but difficult to get to know, because it seems as though she has so few opinions or beliefs of her own. This makes it easier for Eggers to convince us that she follows along blindly with whatever she is told to do, but it also makes her feel less real, and we empathise with her less. This lack of personality may be intentional, to show an essentially brain-washed culture, but it let the book down, because she is so one-dimensional.
The Movie Review
In many ways, the movie stayed true to the book. However, there were a few subtle changes that are important, some for the better, and some not so much.
In general, Mae reads as a weak character, and it seems as though the movie attempted to correct this. Don’t get me wrong, Mae is still pretty weak, but we see her at least struggle with the conversion from normal human to The Circle servant, and eventually it looks as though she takes a little more of a stand in the movie than she did in the book (though ultimately, she’s still a big fan of The Circle and full transparency).
Hanks’ character is (not-so) loosely based on the public image of every CEO from silicone valley, however Steve Jobs is the first who comes to mind, with the informal dress sense and laid back presentations that are watched by thousands of eager listeners. I actually really enjoyed him in this role, and thought he played it well.
In my opinion, one of the more subtle but significant changes was in Mercer’s story. In the book, Mercer is an old flame of Mae’s who is opposed to everything The Circle stands for. In the movie, he’s a childhood friend, and her parents clearly approve of him as a potential match for Mae. At the end of the book, it’s Mae’s idea to track Mercer down when he goes off the grid, whereas in the movie, Tom Stenton, one of the founders of The Circle, pressures her into this decision, making Mae a victim as opposed to a perpetrator. This is important, because in the book, that action really turned me off Mae, whereas in the movie I was more sympathetic.
Both the movie and the book were exhausting to read and watch at times. The level of activity demanded by The Circle, the idea of always being “on”, the notion that privacy is no longer a good thing or a basic right, that privacy is corrupt and wrong, and therefore full transparency is the only way to live. That’s just scary as hell!
Overall, I found both the book and movie to be reasonably enjoyable. But, neither were what I was expecting, and I felt quite let-down by both too. So many of the ideas didn’t seem fully developed, and certain interesting sub-plots ultimately amounted to nothing.
Have you read The Circle, or seen the movie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!