‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggars, portrayed as a satyrical commentary on the early internet age, fails systematically to hit any of the right notes with predictable and lacklustre plot-twists.
Look, I’m not meaning to say that The Circle wasn’t an enjoyable read, if you like to follow the story of a character so stupid that even using the “she was brainwashed” excuse seems like giving her too much credit.
But let’s get to the plot. A clearly under-qualified person, Mae Holland, gets plugged into working for a Google-type corporation called The Circle thanks to her more successful, more intelligent friend who already works there. Nepotism aside, Holland is a classic example of a plugged-in Millenial, with eager will to get ahead and become more popular online.
She soon discovers that all is not what it seems, as The Circle is bent on developing its programmes in order to reach into everyone’s lives.
Despite the obvious secretism and some serious employment breach red flags (“why weren’t you logged in at the weekend, don’t you even CARE?” seems to have been the general theme of Holland’s meetings with her boss), all that she seems to do is apologise and promise to do better in the future. It’s like quitting isn’t even an option. I would understand if this were her dream job, but it isn’t.
More than once, the plot devolves into a classic example of bottom-of-the-barrel narrative. When there was a plot-changer coming along, the book practically read “Hey reader, pay attention this bit is important!”
The most annoying part was that like Clark Kent, somehow no one recognises the Zuckerberg-esque genius leader of the Circle, Ty Gospodinov, when he takes off his hoodie. This is even though he seems to be living at a company where everyone knows everything about each other. I guess he must be a genius then! Worst of all, the readers are also not meant to have figured it out even though it was obvious from the first time they met.
To do some justice to Eggars, the concept of the story is wicked. The idea of a company becoming more powerful than society and more controlling than any one government is a crucial problem for our internet-driven generation. With the issues that European and US governments are having to hold companies like Google to account and legislation incapable of keeping up with the growing pace of developments in the tech sphere, a future run by tech behemoths doesn’t seem like such a giant leap of the imagination.
I just would have preferred a main character with some gumption, someone who would be less willing to dance to The Circle’s tune and more able to portray the true struggles that internet users feel when dealing with the seductive yet terrifying possibilities that the tech world has to offer.
This review is part of my 1000 books before 30 challenge (read more about it here)
Featured image: Creative commons picture courtesy of Kenny Loule