The Circle by Dave Eggers has been in the back of my mind since I first saw it at Half Price Books a few years ago. The concept was intriguing to me, but I never got around to reading it. Then I saw they were coming out with a movie, and being the book lover that I am, I had to read the book before I could sit through the movie adaptation. So I checked it out from the library.
The book’s premise is a pretty typical “what society could become” type of novel. Not quite dystopian, more like what the path to dystopia could look like. Our brave hero Mae gets a job at The Circle, a large, prestigious, and very trendy company. The Circle runs a program called TruYou, which is like a Google account. You have to use your real identity, so no one can be anonymous, and most of your utilities (banking, shopping, social media, etc.) are connected to this one account. I’m sure you can already see where this is going just based on the description of the book, but hang with me for just a second.
On to the review. As always, I am going to try to be spoiler free. I am going to be talking a lot about character development, which may give you some hints as to what’s going to happen, but I won’t spoil anything for you.
Let’s take a quick pause to talk about Dave Eggers before we get into this book. If you’ve never heard of Dave Eggers, I’m going to tell you now that he has a nasty reputation for being a pretentious little prick. His memoir is called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I shit you not. Staggering genius? Says who?
He also got into some hot water over another book of his called What is the What. This work of “staggering genius” is about a real, living person. He worked with Achak Deng, a refugee of the Second Sudanese Civil War. I haven’t actually read it, so I hope my summary there is doing it some kind of justice. At any rate, critics were pretty hard on our boy Eggers because they found it strange that he wrote a story about Deng’s life then called it an autobiography while releasing it under his own name. If it were a true autobiography, why wasn’t Deng the credited author? Some even found the book to be an expropriation of Deng’s identity. I don’t disagree. At the end of the day, I feel he was writing the book for himself, not to share Deng’s story. He wanted to write and sell a book. I don’t believe his intentions were to shine light onto the plight of people suffering from the war. What a hack.
Of course, I knew all this going into the book, but I cleared my mind of any expectations and dove right in. When I’m reading a library book to review on my blog (or in general), I use sticky notes to write out any commentary or thoughts I have while I’m reading. It helps me remember what I had questions about or liked in the book without defacing precious library property. All that to say, my notes for this book are pretty hilarious.
This book is really not good. It just isn’t. There is no original thought. He is not bringing anything new to the conversation. Every point he makes about companies being too big to fall and social media making our lives increasingly private have already been done. Black Mirror has tackled all the issues he explores in this novel, and they’ve hit it out of the part, whereas Dave Eggers has made completely predictable points. This book is like old shoes that you’ve already worn, are a bit squishy when you put them on, and makes your toes cold because they are full of holes.
At 120 pages into the book I had no clue where it was going to go. Mae had a new job, sure, but we hadn’t even remotely come to a scratch of the point. Eggers spends the first third of the book describing a company that is literally exactly like Google.
Let’s talk about Mae. When we first meet her, she’s working in her home town at some utilities office or another. Then, her friend Annie pulls her weight and gets Mae a job at The Circle. So, already Mae basically has no merits other than knowing someone. This is usually the way the world works, but it really does speak a lot to her character. Mae has things happen to her. She does not make things happen for herself. She wanders into the right place at the right time. She lets people embarrass and take advantage of her. She is an absolutely uninspired, whiny, little bitch of a protagonist. I can’t even fathom why Eggers thought such a wet blanket would be even remotely interesting to read for 500 pages.
Everything about her is confusing. Around the middle of the novel, she is incredibly embarrassed to be put on the spot in front of a large group of her peers. By the end of the novel, she basically volunteers to be in the spotlight all the time, despite it mortally embarrassing her literal weeks ago in book time. She is shallow, unrelatable, and literally drowning in the proverbial kool aid through this entire book. Is she supposed to represent the average internet user, blindly trusting large internet companies with their personal information? Maybe. But she could, I don’t know, be a little bit less of a sheep about in the interest of making this book a little less shallow and pedantic.
Then, there’s The Circle itself. Holy fuck, this company is a whole different animal. From the beginning, Eggers makes it seem like The Circle has acquired all these huge companies, both real and imaginary. He says they’ve swallowed Google, and then literally models the company after Google. I mean, this company is actually Google. He didn’t even have the imagination to make it seem like he didn’t blatantly rip off another company. He describes the campus as having all these great amenities, all this state of the art equipment, a three person figurehead, etc. The meals and housing are all free. The health care is free. The campus is a self containing entity, where no one ever has to leave for anything. Want a drink after work? The Circle has a bar. They have a gym. They have a store. All things we know the Google campus, and literally every other company in Silicon Valley, also has. Yawn. This company has been done. It exists. Maybe that was his point, that we are already headed toward this one company rules the world bullshit, but could you at least add something new to the wildfire that isn’t the same old speculation?
The Circle being Google aside, the community here is absolutely ridiculous. At one point, Mae is called into a meeting with HR because she isn’t using her social media enough. She also gets a stern talking to for hurting a coworker’s feelings when she doesn’t come to his party. Any time she’s not seen at a corporate event, it’s like she’s doing something wrong. Okay, whatever, they’re creepy and cultish we get the point. But Eggers also makes a point that there are plenty of “Circlers” (eyeroll) that have families and live off campus. How the fuck do you have a family and never leave work because you have 8 events every night? Do they get shit for not coming? It’s like he thinks of the company and the characters of the book on the surface, but the whole thing is mostly a cardboard ghost town. The front end seems elaborate and well thought out, but all the details are actually missing. He’s trying to drive his point so heavily that he forgets to put wheels on the car. That was a really elaborate and confusing analogy but I’m sticking with it.
There were entirely too many points in this book that had me rolling my eyes, or cringing, or quickly putting the book down because I didn’t know what to make of what I’d just read. At some point after finding out she got the job, Mae’s parents call Annie the savior of their family. Because she got their daughter a job. Jesus H. Then, and I am not even joking, in the same paragraph we find out that Mae is short for MAEBELLINE. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!??!!?!
I have to bring this review to its conclusion before it becomes such a huge bitchfest. Look, Eggers, we get it. These large companies, with their disrespect for privacy, their cameras, their monitoring, their selling us out… we get it. We are heading toward new age tyranny and everyone is too caught up in ease of use and Facebook chats to realize the destination our train is headed. This concept is not new, and you did nothing to bring anything new to the conversation. Literally nothing. If someone else had written this book, it would have been way better. Go sit in your corner and learn how to write yourself out of a paper bag.
Don’t get this book. Don’t read it. Probably don’t go see the movie. I might just for curiosity’s sake, but I doubt it will be better than this garbage.
Here’s Chief, also hating this book: