Mae Holland knows she’s destined for something more than working for the local utility company. So when she’s offered the opportunity to work at The Circle, an organization on the cutting edge of the Internet and social media, she’s thrilled. Her former college roommate is an executive with The Circle, and Mae discovers that association immediately bestows prestige upon her, bringing her to the notice of many at The Circle. But as she becomes more entrenched in the company, things begin to spiral out of Mae’s control as those around her wonder about The Circle’s true motives.
The Circle is an often frustrating novel, but one that everyone who has ever felt conflicted about the use of social media should read. Eggers isn’t one for subtlety, but this is a novel that will stay with you long after you turn its last pages.
By this point, you’ve probably read something or the other about Dave Eggers’s latest novel, The Circle; at the least that the company at the center of the book is the author’s version of Google (an exaggerated version, to be sure). And it’s an interesting presentation; at the beginning, it’s easy to see why Mae is dazzled by her new surroundings. But there’s a sinister undercurrent that’s present from the beginning of the book. Is it good for one company to have that much information, which easily can translate into power?
We see everything in The Circle through Mae’s eyes. She’s always felt that she was destined for something great, which readers will be able to sympathize with. But as the novel progresses and she moves further and further from anything resembling rationality, Mae ceases to be a believable character. At the same time, though, Eggers excellently portrays how power and the lure of popularity can affect a person. Readers will have conflicted feelings about Mae, especially as she transforms into something that isn’t even recognizable by the end of the book.
The real message of The Circle (and to be fair, there are many) is one of information. We are increasingly living in a “take a picture and post it on social media or it didn’t happen” society. While there’s nothing wrong with the desire to share your life with your friends, where is that line? How much is too much? As an avid user of social media (Twitter, specifically), I’m constantly grappling with the line between my public and private lives. I have a hard wall I’ve constructed, intent on protecting my privacy and that of those close to me. So, as you can imagine, I’ve thought quite a bit about sharing and social media, which is part of the reason that this novel resonated so much with me.
But in The Circle, Eggers takes that principal question of social media—how much is too much?—and flips it on its head. Instead, The Circle claims that not sharing your life, that keeping information to yourself, is selfish. There are so many people out there who don’t have the opportunity to experience what you do, they argue. Posting about it and sharing it publicly makes your private, selfish experience a public one that others, too, can enjoy. It’s insanely thought-provoking while also being an intensely distasteful view, as it perpetuates the idea that everyone should be interested in what you’re doing at every single moment because you are just that important.
Eggers takes this to a ridiculous extreme in The Circle, wielding his pen like a hammer, bludgeoning the reader with his commentary. There’s nothing subtle about this book, and by the end, there’s nothing really believable either. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. In fact, this is a book that everyone who’s ever felt conflicted about social media should consider; the characters are caricatures (power hungry, Kool-Aid drinking Mae and those in her personal life who preach—distastefully—against her choices) without any middle-of-the-ground voices of reason in their midst, but that doesn’t mean that their stories aren’t relevant.
I had a lot of trouble deciding how to rate The Circle. After all, I don’t hide the fact that my ratings are very subjective, and indicate how I felt about a book. I had a lot of problems with The Circle, but the fact remains that it’s thought provoking and interesting, not to mention I raced through it because it’s an easy, engaging read. I decided to rate it more highly than I’d rate a typical novel I’d have this many criticisms about just because I not only read the novel, but I felt it deep down, if that makes any sense, and I want others to read it too.
The Circle is a novel that will stay with me for a very, very long time. After finishing it, I had the urge to cleanse myself of social media, to disconnect for a few days and just live my life. It definitely has its flaws, but at the same time, the extremes to which Eggers takes things is part of what makes it thought provoking. It’s a timely book (that, as a bonus, is very easy to read) that readers who enjoy thoughtful reads should absolutely consider.