3.5 / 5
"My god, Mae thought. It's heaven."
The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, bestselling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.
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 the world—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.
Well. This was disappointingly one of my least favorite of Eggers' books, but I still did enjoy it, and couldn't put it down. It raised a lot of great questions about the culture we live in today, and particularly our seeming eagerness to give control of much of our lives over to large companies like Google and Facebook. I am certainly guilty of this, and while I normally just shrug it off & figure that they've already got everything one can have on me, it still raises questions about how much liberty we should allow our private companies. And how much privacy we can and should expect from the rest of the world, especially now that we are willing to post to the public about what we ate for breakfast or even when we went to the bathroom! The Circle, however, presents a world that is an introvert's nightmare - and Eggers exploits that even more by having a company who is so devoted to the policy of openness that they ask people to wear cameras about their necks, almost 24/7! Ooooh, I shudder at the thought.
But, let me back up. This book covers the adventures of Mae Holland as she begins her new job at The Circle, a company which clearly echoes today's big tech companies, but which Eggers gives a unique concept and foundation to. Mae quickly works her way up from newbie to being one of the top-tier members of the company, largely by making blunders which the company "helps her learn from" - she is shown the error of her private ways, and ultimately loses much of what she loves in the process to becoming more "visible." It's a great philosophical question about how much accountability one must have, and how much privacy people ought to be afforded. I did love the constant arguments Eggers made throughout the book on both sides of this issue. (I had to wonder, though, how the "transparent" politicians were held accountable if they were NOT expected to wear the cameras around their necks at night - while I would like to allow EVERYone the modicum of privacy that sleep should be allowed, couldn't underhanded deals be just as easily made in the middle of the night? Hmm.) The book really got me thinking deeply about the right to and (sometimes taken for granted) privilege of privacy.
There were many things which annoyed me about the book, though. Seriously - the "big reveal" about Kalden (whose name means "of the Golden Age" in Tibetan, FWIW), one of Mae's love interests? The guy who skulks around The Circle and just seems to somehow always be there? Saw THAT one coming from day one. Just sayin'. And then the whole in-your-face metaphor stuff where the sea creatures were the equivalent of the 3 company heads? Oh Dave Eggers, I really thought you were better than that....
Overall, this is a great novel if you are interested in taking an enjoyable (and sometimes terrifying!) look at the issues which surround Facebook and Google and internet privacy. The book reminds us that we are at the cusp of something big and potentially life-changing; how we handle the next few years could make all the difference.
Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of this book here: