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Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers (4/5)

9 Apr

This review is a long time coming. I thought I’d read this book a few months ago and flaked out. Then I decided to read it as an ebook which meant it would take forever and then I lost my hold on it and I really do think it took forever. It’s really a miracle I’m here typing the review of this book. Honestly, I might have done it just so I can watch an Emma Watson movie over the weekend. Maybe.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Other books by Eggers reviewed on this blog:

Zeitoun (and Book Club Reflection)
A Hologram for the King (and movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

When Mae 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. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – 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 …

A good book entertains you while making you think and I think Eggers succeeded here. I was entertained by Mae’s story. I was invested in her relationships and her job. The whole time, I was thinking ‘how could you do that?’ as she made decisions that seemed ridiculous over and over. It became very clear that the people around her were feeding her decisions to share more and more about herself and put those she’d once loved at higher and higher risk. I questioned people and what they really thought they were doing and if they could really act a certain way on the internet and realized that people already do these things. Eggers didn’t make up Mae’s world, not completely. Some of it is already true. But some of it is a long way off. We’re still concerned about privacy and what happens to data we create. There are debates over who owns what data and when a hack is a breach of privacy or duty. I don’t think Mae’s version of internet openness will happen tomorrow, but it’s truly not too far off.

Dave Eggers
Image via

I liked the spread of characters. There were those who were sold, those being sold, and those losing their faith in The Circle. Watching people slide around that scale made the book interesting. Mae was almost too likable, though. She seemed too perfect and it may be that I pictured her as Emma Watson, but even when she did dumb things, I still loved her. I’m not sure if that’s good writing or if I’m gullible. Mercer was easiest to picture and relate to and it bothered me that he was painted in such a negative light. I wish he’d been better liked by Mae.

Annie was my favorite character. It was so easy to see someone of her age and ability being sucked in and told she could change the world. I thought the way it crashed around her was very well done, though a bit extreme at the end. I liked how her relationship with Mae changed over time, too. It was very telling of Mae’s mindset and her increasing involvement with the company. A parallel story from Annie’s perspective would be really interesting.

Mercer was the easiest for me to relate to. I feel that as a blogger and social media user, I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true! He still had the ability to see problems with what was going on and appreciate the moments of silence and solidarity that are so enjoyable in our daily lives. He represented what is peaceful and joyful about going for a hike or laying in the grass at a park. Those moments are sometimes best enjoyed alone.

My signed copy of this book.

After Mae went transparent, I thought the book really picked up. At least, I started reading it more. Until then, I felt like she was resisting being pulled into the Circle, but all at once, it took off and it was fun trying to see if she’d go back to the Mae she’d been before accepting the job. The pace picked up almost as fast as the pace of life at the Circle.

The ending really upset me. I won’t give details, but will only say I saw it coming and that made it worse. I didn’t think the hidden identity was much of a secret and I wasn’t surprised by what Mae was told. Is that too vague? Maybe, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll know! I’m excited to see if the movie has the same ending.

Eggers is a bit heavy-handed in his commentary about our relationship with social media and technology. I’m not sure there’s a way he could have approached this book that wouldn’t have felt heavy-handed. It’s hard to unplug from life. My coworkers say all the time that being on vacation doesn’t mean they’re not working. It’s the same with social media. No matter where I am, I’m 5 seconds from checking a blog comment and sometimes I do it when I shouldn’t. It’s hard to be focused when we’re constantly reminded that someone somewhere has something to say. Sometimes we ignore the people who are in front of us to see who liked our Instagram photo or whose cat video was uploaded. This book helped remind me to put my phone away when my husband and I can spend time together and appreciate being together because it doesn’t happen all the time!

Writer’s Takeaway: Eggers clearly had a message in mind, but the way he gave Mae such an elaborate story made it seem a bit more hidden. The story was about Mae, not about technology, and I think that was an important difference. If you liked or disliked his message, you could still enjoy Mae’s story. There were times I read on more because I cared about her relationship with Francis than I cared about the Circle closing. I think this was a great way to write about such a heavy topic. I think reading it as an ebook almost defeated the purpose.

A solid read, Four out of Five Stars

This book fulfilled the Future time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Post:
“The Circle” by Dave Eggers – Part III | Sunday Book Club
Dave Eggers – “The Circle” | Don’t Need a Diagram
The Circle by Dave Eggers | Disco Demolition Night
Dave Eggers, The Circle – TLS | Nothing is Lost