Book Review: The Circle

Posted by Zoe Dartley '16

We continue reading a book for many reasons: the beauty of its language, its intriguing plotline or perhaps the fact that the story's tension is so palpable that one simply cannot stop following it, despite an ever-growing feeling of sickness. This is the case in Dave Eggers' latest tour de force, The Circle, whose plot unfolds like a fast-moving train wreck you can't take your eyes off of.

The novel opens at the beginning of Mae Holland's journey as a new employee at The Circle, a Bay Area Internet titan that has streamlined all search engines and social media systems into one completely transparent program, removing all anonymity from the web. Its members have a cult-like devotion to the company's mission, "Privacy is theft, Secrets are lies." The symbolism may not be subtle, but it's potent. Eggers has a gift for understanding the nuances of his main character's thought process. We follow Mae's opinion of the company from complete astonishment to mistrust to, finally, devotion.

While The Circle's employees are all Type-A devotees, they still know how to party; on her first night Mae attends an orgy-like festival, complete with rare, gourmet food and alcoholic potions. Many members pass out in the campus's well-equipped dorm rooms, feeling no need to return home when all of their necessities are on site.
Part of Eggers' genius is the fact that, although we know something is about to go terribly wrong in the book, we can't seem to stop turning the pages. The novel reverberates with prophetic wisdom, especially because all of The Circle's inventions seem believable. What start out as nifty tech ideas morph into agents of immense societal change at a company where young and ambitious geniuses are given exorbitant amounts of money to roll with their dreams.

The most prominent example of this is SeeChange, a program that is introduced during Mae's first few days at the company. The program consists of tiny, high-definition video cameras that can be placed anywhere in nature and produce live-stream coverage. Introduced as an agent of human improvement, The Circle's employees believe the world will be free of corruption if these cameras are omnipresent. Thus, the regime begins: the cameras begin to be placed in cities all over the world, in private homes and even around the necks of politicians.

Sure to evoke comparisons to 1984 and Brave New World, The Circle is unequivocally relevant. While it may be hard to suppress a rise of bile in the throat whilst reading it, one emerges with a greater understanding of not only our technological world, but how it affects our need for validation and communication. As any great book should, The Circle will haunt its readers with questions long after its scarlet cover is closed. How far are we willing to go in the need for information and innovation? Perhaps the next great dictator isn't a single figure, but rather the result of one of the proudest human inventions: technology.

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