Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Format: audiobook, read by Dion Graham
Start Date: February 18, 2017
End Date: February 24, 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars à 3 stars for the ending
Bailey: “A circle is the strongest shape in the universe. Nothing can beat it, nothing can improve upon it, nothing can be more perfect. And that’s what we want to be: perfect. So any information that eludes us, anything that’s not accessible, prevents us from being perfect.”
I’ve been on a weird kick lately, where most of the books that I want to read are those that are soon-to-be made into either a movie or TV adaptation. I don’t know why. I like comparing books to movies – Did it live up to the book? What did the writers leave out? How did they interpret a particular part of the story?
When I saw the trailer for The Circle – starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, and the late Bill Paxton, among others – I was intrigued. What was this movie? It sounded really interesting. And, because movies rarely seem to convey the exact mood or motives of the book, I decided that reading the book – Dave Eggers’ The Circle – first would provide me with a better sense of the story before diving into the movie.
First, before my review, a little mood music: a cover of “Private Eyes” by Lenachka. This is the song from the trailer, and it is creepy and ethereal and beautiful.
While you’re at it, check out the two trailers, shown below:
When Mae Holland gets a job at the Circle, a highly coveted place to work, she is ecstatic. The Circle is a powerful internet company with the ultimate goal of creating a single online profile for each user, negating the need to remember various passwords for social media and bank accounts both. The Circle is a utopia, of sorts, where everyone is happy to work and socialize and gather information and improve humankind. However, there is something more sinister afoot, right out of view. Where transparency and sharing information, both public and private alike, might seem like an ideal scenario, not everyone agrees. “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.” (from Goodreads)
For me, the idea of the Circle is one that is both enlightening and terrifying.
Sure, on the surface, this whole concept of consolidation and tracking sounds like a great idea in terms of ease-of-access. It almost makes sense to have a single profile that links everything from social media to banking. No longer do you have to worry about forgetting passwords because you only have one. No longer do you have to worry about someone being sneaky online because their online profile reveals everything you would need to know about them. No longer do you have to feel like you have to hide parts of yourself because everything is exposed for the world to see.
But there’s something darker lurking just underneath the surface. There’s this need, this desire, this drive for knowledge. It’s almost visceral.
This book was actually terrifying. Listening to this book, I found my hand over my mouth in disbelief more than once. I think the main reason this book is so terrifying is because it seems completely plausible. With the ever-increasing reach of technology today, especially in the hands of the big conglomerates that seem to hold most of the sway (think: Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook), the world portrayed in this book – a world where a private company, the Circle, slowly holds the monopoly of ALL INFORMATION – does not seem so far-fetched.
However, that is not the only goal of the Circle.
In a 1984-esque way, the ultimate goal of the Circle was to essentially know everything by watching everything, thereby improving humanity as a whole.
Bailey: “I truly believe that if we have no path but the right path, the best path, then that would present a kind of ultimate and all-encompassing relief. We don’t have to be tempted by darkness anymore… I’m a believer in the perfectibility of human beings. I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless. We can solve any problem. We can cure any disease, end hunger, everything, because we won’t be dragged down by all our weaknesses, our petty secrets, our hoarding of information and knowledge. We will finally realize our potential.”
In The Circle, we see the development of a system where, for the purpose of improving morality, everything can be watched, tracked, and stored. Information about EVERYONE – whether about their health, their online social presence, their education ranking, or even their location – can be monitored with scary accuracy.
The thing that is scary is I can actually see this happening. Maybe not immediately, but as a possible eventuality. We have GPS in our phones. Even something as simple as looking up show times for a movie prompts a pop-up notification, asking if I can share my location with this website for improved accuracy. And you know what? More often than not, I say yes. Because it seems harmless. Because it makes sense.
Today, we are used to having information readily available at our fingertips. If it is not available, it is often distressing. We feel that we each have a right to information – immediately – and that it is our right to know. We need it. We thrive off it. We devour it. How many times have you heard the question, “What did people do back then, before Google?” I know I have. Before the internet, I would look information up in 1980s Encyclopaedias or go to the library. Now, I have the answers available at my fingertips, instantaneously.
And it’s a little scary.
All things considered, I did enjoy this book. I really liked the first 80% of the book. Toward the end, that’s where things fell apart a little for me.I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing. I think it’s amazing that we have all of this information available at our fingertips. If I want to look up what a translucent octopus looks like, well, it takes less than five seconds.
Now, for some things I didn’t particularly like about the book.
I didn’t like the overt descriptions. Great, I’m glad that Mae was an avid kayaker and that it might have symbolized the outside world, the time she spent away from the Circle’s grasp, but it was too much. I know it led to more than one major plot point and served as an interesting juxtaposition between the inner social nature of the Circle and the rest of the outside world, but it was too much. It was ultimately boring, and the author could have made his point better with less description.
Additional overt descriptions included: explanations of Mae’s typical workday and duties; conversations with Mercer; conversations with Bailey; the metaphor at the end with the translucent seahorses, octopus, and shark; etc. Too many words made, especially the dialogue, seem clunky and not quite polished.
But most of all, I didn’t like the ending. It wasn’t the ending itself that I had a problem with, it was its presentation. It fell flat for me. I was let down by the author’s “big reveal” that was obvious from the moment the subplot was introduced, and that set the tone for the remainder of the book. The tension that was so palpable throughout the entirety of the story (except the parts that were overly described, see above) – building up and up and UP – seemed to abruptly end, like the author hastily threw together the ending without any real thought.
Overall rating: 3.5 stars. I was originally going to round up to an even (and respectable) 4 stars, if nothing else but for the “wow” factor, but the ending (particularly the “big reveal”), as well as the other problems I had with the book, ultimately led me to round down to a sturdy 3 stars, for an overall enjoyable story with dystopian feeling akin to that of George Orwell’s 1984, but modernized.