After battling my way through ‘The Luminaries‘ by Eleanor Catton recently, I wanted to read something which was the absolute polar opposite of historical fiction and settled on ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers. It tells the story of Mae Holland, a twenty-something graduate who starts a new job at The Circle – a social media conglomerate the size and power of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and every other major tech company combined. Although Mae is impressed by what she finds there, the wider implications of how the company is developing soon become apparent.
The Internet is probably the most significant invention of recent decades and is developing faster than we know how to deal with the far-reaching consequences. As a dystopian novel set in a non-specified period of time in the future, much of Mae’s behaviour in ‘The Circle’ is already highly recognisable. She becomes obsessed with the number of followers she has, her ranking among The Circle’s ten thousand employees and is unable to understand why some people do not want to share everything online. As a result, her character doesn’t really develop at all, which for me is one of the most chilling aspects of the story.
What begins as a fairly light satire on Silicon Valley companies and the corporate workplace quickly becomes much more sinister. As well as advocating chilling slogans such as Sharing is Caring, Privacy is Theft and Secrets are Lies, The Circle’s employees unquestionably support SeeChange – a project whereby small, inexpensive, high definition cameras can be set up anywhere for the whole world to see – without contemplating the aspects of security and privacy which usually dominates discussions about the impact of new technology. ‘The Circle’ is dystopian and is also very satirical. Consequently, the focus is often less about realism and more about exaggerating something to make a point and Eggers mostly does this very well. However, there are some scenes which are about as subtle as a brick, most notably when Mae argues with her parents and her ex-boyfriend about the merits of sharing online as well as the ending where Kalden’s identity is finally revealed.
Despite being completely unambiguous in its message, ‘The Circle’ is a thought-provoking and enjoyable read. However, a fair number of reviews suggest that ‘The Circle’ is far from Eggers’ best work so I will be interested to see how his other books compare.