Dave Eggers – The Circle (2013) Review

The Circle

  • Genre: dystopia
  • Pages: 491
  • My rating: 7.5/10

I am always a bit suspicious of immensely popular books in which a mainstream author dips his or her toes into science fiction. These novels are invariably lauded as innovative and “important” by those who are not used to reading science fiction. But since the movie was coming out, I decided to give the novel a shot.

Mae is a young, insecure, naive and ambitious woman who is hired for an entry-level job at California’s most innovative tech company, The Circle. The office is filled with relentlessly passionate people and everything seems magical to Mae. Buoyed up by her own desire to achieve and fit in, she is sucked into the inviting yet toxic corporate culture of the Circle, whose influence reaches all over the globe.

This novel raised painful memories in me of the latest corporate environment I found myself in. The Circle seems filled with passionate believers, like a cult, and at the same time tries to buy the loyalty of its staff with luxurious stuff that is not related to its business. It swallows the lives of its employees. Underneath the smiles and the sheen of excitement lies a suffocating pressure, a neediness, to be part of the “community” at all times. Things start to get really creepy when Mae receives a third screen at her desk, solely meant for being a part of the company’s community, coercing her to like and wink and comment upon the messages of her colleagues at all times.

The Circle is a company that is supposed to be so much ahead of the curve that it went full circle. But the book itself and the technology it talks about is already here and gaining presence. Social media already creates intense social pressures that are new and alien to those that are not part of it. Modern kids already live in electronic worlds and worry about social media-related pressures that older generations are not even aware of exist. For example, the portable webcam invention in The Circle is getting popular right now as dash cams.

In this sense, The Circle is a bit like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Its science fictional element is small, but the social pressures are stifling. Eggers is not the guy for dazzling science fiction readers with technological ideas, but he does a great job in making you feel squeezed and trapped. In another sense, The Circle is a bit like Huxley’s Brave New World, because Mae enters a world where everyone seems so happy with the new status quo. The dystopian conditions are embraced by people who like what is happening and believe in its messages. That’s just scary.

None of The Circle‘s ideas or messages are new or unique in any way. I do agree with the way social media is shown here in a negative, invasive way, but the message itself is the least interesting thing about this novel. What I enjoyed most about this story is how Eggers took these well-known ideas and used them to create an office space nightmare. I read this with a delicious feeling of scaring myself, because entering the Circle is entering a world full of oppressive, unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, the message is what interested Eggers the most, and he delivers it with the subtlety of a hammer.

As a consequence, Eggers’ characters are all very one-note. They are vessels to communicate the message. Mae is an empty vessel, insecure and accepting, and her eyes never do open. Her ex-boyfriend Mercer is the voice of reason, and her colleagues are the voices of the zeitgeist. Mae has no spine, never stands up for herself, doesn’t see how she is selling her soul step by step, and she enters badly written sex scenes with strange men. All the characters are so overblown, so unrealistic. Now, if the crazy managers act strange that makes the Circle only more oppressive, which is great to read about, but Mae is blind to it, even joins it, and that makes her impossible to identify with.

As I was reading this at a train station, an old woman approached me and said that I was reading an important novel and that I shouldn’t be taken with all those IT companies that make everything sound great. I nodded politely and said I agreed, but I had to restrain myself from saying that I only enjoyed this as an office space nightmare and refrained from moaning about the bad characters. Those complaints would have fallen on deaf ears. There is a fun novel hidden inside Eggers’ The Circle, but it is buried beneath its own self-regard.

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5 Responses to Dave Eggers – The Circle (2013) Review

  1. Tom says:

    After reading this, kinda surprised with the high score. But either way, you’ve helped me out big time here. I was curious about reading a Dave Eggers novel since I loved his movie The Witch last year so much I wanted to give his writing a try. But I made the mistake of watching the movie adaptation of this book first, and by god it is horrible. It’s the most unsubtle thing in the world. The characters are absolutely insanely terrible, even Tom Hanks’, so hearing that the book struggles with these things too makes me want to steer clear. If you’ve seen the movie I’d like to know how you thought they compared.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I tend to give books high scores. I haven’t seen the movie yet. In fact, I wanted to have read this book before seeing the movie! I see you’re thinking of doing this the other way around. Yes, this book is the most unsubtle thing ever. Eggers wants to sound smart and it just radiates pretention. The characters are terrible. Thanks for warning me that the movie is exactly like it. I still want to see it though. And yet…. this book was very readable, easy to breeze through, and it did make me almost hyperventilate because the social pressures on Mae.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bookstooge says:

    A stranger commented to you in real life on the book you were reading? makes me even more thankful that I read on my kindle.
    Someone talking to me in public while I’m reading makes me feel the same way that someone talking to me while I’m in a public restroom does. Extremely uncomfortable 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah that happened 🙂 I tried to have a nice conversation but I actually felt quite uncomfortable too. I didn’t really know what to say and just wanted to get back to reading. I guess some books pull others to reach out and say something. It happened to me before with a Terry Pratchett one. I guess the red cover of The Circle is like a red flag for others who read it too, hehe.

      Liked by 1 person

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