01/08/2017

The Circle - Dave Eggers

Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Publisher: Knopf
Date Published: 8th October 2013
Pages: 493
Source: Bought


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 America - 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.

I really have no idea where to start... All I know is that I have 2 full A4 pages of notes about this book and that I'm really not sure if I enjoyed it or not. So that's a great start. I did like this, I mean I liked it to the point where I found it entertaining enough to finish the entire thing... but there were just so many issues with this book that I really couldn't overlook. Briefly, the characters were flat, the plot was lacking and the writing was odd. That being said, the concept was still very intriguing and there was a lot of potential that just unfortunately, went unfulfilled.
Right, let me start off by saying that this is going to be the longest review I have ever written, but I have a lot of thoughts! Let's start with the issues I had with this book. 


1. The characters. 
Every single character in this book was flat, two-dimensional and fake. Hear me out. The Circle employees all sounded exactly the same, their voices didn't distinguish them from each other - if you didn't know who was talking, or that there was more than one worker, you'd think it was the same person the entire time. Now, I know they all believe The Circle is the best thing since sliced bread, but I'm sure they all have their own personalities, right? 

Our protagonist: the young, naive, easily manipulated female - Mae Holland. I know a lot of people had an issue with the fact that she wasn't a "strong independent woman.." but that really didn't bother me. We aren't all strong, independent women. Some of us are weak, some of us give into temptation very easily, some of us do rely on male attention to boost our self-worth. Those aren't bad things, they still happen and these women do still exist in real life - so the fact that she jumped into bed with anyone who was even the slightest bit interested in her, wasn't an issue for me. Some people do that, and that's fine. 

The issue I had with her was that she was so trusting, she didn't question anything she was told, she believed it all. She took it all in, and in essence, it became her. It consumed her. She became one with The Circle and that was what really pissed me off. As a graduate, she should have questioned it. It is drilled into students all the time to question things, not to believe everything you're told, to think logically and critically about things and she did none of those things. It didn't even occur to her that any of this was wrong or weird. She didn't have any inner-arguments, any doubt about anything. She just closed her eyes and jumped right in without thinking about it. The fact that she was written in such a simplistic, 'ditzy, trusting little girl' kind of way, really made me resent both the author and Mae, herself.

I found it increasingly difficult to care about her problems and her worries as the book went on, I had no connection with her. There was nothing about her that made me root for her, or want her to succeed, or want her to open her eyes and get out. Nothing. I just didn't care what happened to her. And when I don't care about the protagonist, the whole book is lost. 

Mercer: Mercer was written into this novel purely because there had to be someone who had an opposing view. There had to be someone who didn't believe the shit The Circle came out with. That's all he was there for. There was so much potential for both Mae and Mercer to become more fleshed out characters, to give them both a bit of depth - even just as friends, there was so much potential but it was completely missed. The only interactions they had was to tell her that this whole situation was fucked up and that he wanted no part in it. That was it. We didn't learn anything about their past relationship, we didn't learn anything about his personality, or how she was before all of this. Nothing. What was the point?! 

Kalden. Now Mae spoke to him maybe 3 times in the entire book and again, every interaction they had was him trying to make her question things. There was no connection, no conversation between them that made us learn more about their characters. I just can't understand why anyone would write in a bunch of characters, only for them all to be talking about the same thing. Mercer and Kalden could have been the same person. They sounded the same, they said the same things to Mae, there was just no substance at all. 

Francis & Annie. I'm going to group these two in together purely because I don't have much to say about either of them aside from the fact their interactions with Mae just seemed fake. Annie was friends with Mae, she got her the job and yet every time they interacted it was forced and unnatural. They had zero banter, they had no inside jokes, nothing that indicated they knew each other before The Circle. Again, what the point of her? 

Francis on the other hand seemed to have gotten a little more out of Mae. Mae essentially used him, and he didn't mind. Their friendship was meh but they had some form of normal interaction. Their semi-relationship-thing was meh (although his unfortunate moments were the highlight of the book!) and just everything about him was a little meh. Bland and boring. His backstory was only relevant to the work he was doing at The Circle, which wasn't relevant at all to the main storyline. I sound like a broken record but what was the point? 

The Audience. Mae's audience, the people who were watching her every move online were commenting on everything she did. I found it so odd that the majority of the population were accepting of everything The Circle was doing. Was everyone in the population that easily manipulated that they'd stop questioning everything and just accept that their privacy is very near to being a thing of the past? It's hard to believe. You can't seriously tell me not ONE SINGLE PERSON had a problem with it? That everyone just went along with The Circle and their quest for world domination? Yeah right. 

There was no middle ground between the people who accepted The Circle and all it was doing and  those who didn't. Kalden was off the grid, Mercer wanted to be off the grid, and those were the only two who were opposing everything. It's 2017 right now, right? People are online nearly 24hours of the day, so it's just baffling that Mercer didn't even want to message Mae to see how she is, and would have just rather lived in the woods to get away from it all. I can understand not agreeing with how far things were going, but he just went to such extremes to get away from it all. On the other hand, you had millions of people who accepted it all without question, and like Mae, wanted to be completely transparent and have everything on show for the world to see. Where's the middle ground? Where are those people who wouldn't mind some advances in technology, but still valued their privacy? 

2. The Plot & The Writing 
There essentially was no plot. The first 350 pages were like coasting down a long country road, there was nothing around, nothing going on, just moving forward for   a g e s. That's what the majority of this book was like. We were introduced to The Circle, we were told about what they did there, what Mae had to do, what their new inventions and creations were and that was about it. Only in the last section of the book did things start to pick up a little but even then the ending was weird, there was no climax, there was nothing major that happened. It was just coasting along. It was just us watching Mae turn into a Circle robot and believing everything she's told. 

There were a few 'shocking' moments that had potential for the plot to change direction and actually go somewhere, but I feel like they were just there for the shock factor. For the 'this is what happens when you use the internet, kids!'. The lesson that we were being taught. I thought it was odd, that this novel was telling us the consequences our actions regarding technology could have, if we let it go that far but didn't actually show us anything. 

The Circle was filled with conventions, similar to Apple's WWDC, that just told us about things, it told us about PastPerfect and SeeChange and whatever else they came up with but it didn't really show it to us in relation to the plot. It just told us 'This is what we want to do' and everyone's like 'Oooh' and then a few cameras get installed and it effects one or two people at The Circle but other than that it had no relation to the plot at all. It felt like I was reading a textbook, this book had so much potential to be something great. To have a strong plot and a strong message, it could have been a classic in years to come but it's just fallen flat. 

Mae was a newbie at The Circle, she only got the job because she was friends with Annie. So why oh why did she rise up to be such an important person within the company after such a short amount of time? Why did she stand out to the higher ups over other newbies? It made no sense at all. It was so random and unclear as to why she blew up so much. I'm sure there must've been other newbies who did exactly what she did but they didn't get the attention of the people in power. My first thought was that they wanted her to be the face of The Circle because they could manipulate her so easily and she would just take it all but then I realised, everyone who worked for that company was manipulated. They all cheered when the prospect of requiring every citizen to have a Circle account in order to vote in elections from within that account. They all cheered at the fact that Mae was going transparent. They all cheered at the fact that they were being watched 24/7 and their health and social life was being monitored. They were all very easily manipulated, so why was Mae so special? Why did Mae get chosen for all of this? The reason? She's the protagonist of our story, it had to be her. I just wish there was an actual reason for it and not just because 'it's a book'. 

3. What I liked. 
I loved the set up of The Circle, the fact that the company cared so much about its employees. We could only dream to have companies like that in the real world. The fact that they helped Mae's parents and put them on their healthcare plan, they didn't have to do that. It felt like money wasn't an issue for them. You want some free clothes? Here's a room full, take what you want. You need somewhere to sleep? We have dorms! Now that, is something I could get behind. 

I also loved some of the ideas. Of course, they're extremely problematic but the idea that everyone who had a Circle account was an active user - can you just imagine the #'s you'd get? People would actually read my reviews and comment on them! A girl can dream. A tiny little camera that gives off the perfect HD picture? Yes pls! 

Most importantly, I loved that this book kept me hooked. It made me want to read more of it, I wanted to finish it to see what happened and despite all its problems, I finished it so it really couldn't have been that bad!

4. Overall. 
There was so much potential to this book, it genuinely frustrates me how much potential there was. The concept was nothing that we haven't already seen. I've read lots of books on the consequences of technology, the problem with opening your life up to everyone on the internet, it's nothing different or unique. The writing was a little condescending, the author assumed we couldn't piece it all together by ourselves, that we need to be told, i.e. the shark in the tank situation - like yeah, I think we get it. It was unnecessary. I just feel like the book would have been more interesting if we saw some real resistance, if we saw a stronger opposition, someone with some sense! I can't get over how frustrating it is, the fact that this world had the ability to put cameras and microphones EVERYWHERE and the plot didn't utilise that at all. It's just fucking baffling. 

I'm over it. I rated this 2* on Goodreads. 

4 comments:

  1. Hi Anth. I found your blog through the Good Reads book blogger section. I haven't read this book, but I have read several other books by Dave Eggers and I felt the same way about them that you did about this book. I have friends who have raved about his books, but I have very conflicted feelings about all of them.

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    1. That's interesting that his other books induce similar feelings! I feel like maybe his style is just not something that sits well with me. The actual concept of this book is amazing, but the execution was just weird!

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  2. A good friend of mine had a very similar opinion to this book so I didn't bother buying it, I'm really glad I didn't now it really doesn't seem like something I would enjoy

    Jess x
    http://acornlifefitness.com

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    1. It's definitely an odd one! The concept is great, but it just wasn't written in the way that I expected it to? Such a weird book!

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