16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2014
I'm not sure where to stand on this book.
I think the author had a great idea here. The premise of this book is certainly interesting. Eggers exploits the creepiness associated with Google's and Facebook's disregard for personal privacy and turns it into a dystopian thriller. Post-Edward Snowden, this book really hits the target.
As a story, however, it fails. Its vacuous and shockingly naive main protagonist, Mae Holland, blindly and unquestioningly accepts all the bizarre requests her company demands of her. Not once does she put up an ounce of resistance when she is being told to share even the most personal and private details of her life. What motivates Mae's lack of resistance remains infuriatingly unclear throughout the story.
I kept on wondering at which point she would explode and tell her employers to stick their requests where the sun doesn't shine. I kept expecting her to at least say "enough is enough" and storm out. Alas, no. All she does is apologise profusely and sacrifice more of her personal dignity. It made me want to grab her by the shoulders and scream at her. Towards the end of the book I even loathed her so much I was actively hoping for some suitably nasty end to her pathetic existence.
Most of the other characters are extremely peripheral and not fleshed out in much detail. There's a couple of love interests here and there, but those aren't explored very much. Then there's the ex boyfriend who acts as the moral conscience of the story. He's the only one who's remotely likeable.
Still though, despite all these criticisms this book did make me sit back and think. A lot of the 'innovations' which the Circle comes up with so ludicrously violate our privacy that the notion of people simply accepting them stretches the believability of the novel. Then again, how many things do we share about ourselves online nowadays without much of an afterthought? Things which, I'm sure, a couple of decades ago we would have balked at.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Well, no, not for much longer, if the scenario Dave Eggers imagines in 'The Circle' is to be believed. Set in the near future, The Circle has become the daddy of all internet companies, and has subsumed Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and all the rest to become a completely dominant and all-pervasive presence in people's online lives. The 10,000 or so employees working on The Circle's California campus have no doubt that their technology is making the world a better, safer, wiser place. But the implications of The Circle's omnipresence in terms of civil liberties, privacy and personal independence become more and more disturbing as The Circle's management pushes the company's capabilties towards their ultimate conclusion - which they refer to rather ominously as 'completing the circle'.
Eggers here is doing what satirists and science fiction writers have done for generations: take an existing modern trend and push it to its extremes. He is spot on in targeting the way in which our addiction to social media is allowing us to sleepwalk into a surveillance society, and he's also entertainingly paranoid in imagining a world in which there is no opt-out from public participation - a world where, in one of the book's many memorable taglines, Privacy is Theft. As well as raising the alarm on the threat of an online panopticon, the book is perhaps even more than this a satire on the corrosive effects of unrestrained capitalism, by imagining a world in which users' very selves can effectively be privatised and monetised by social media. All of which places a salutary question mark over today's internet giants and their anodyine internal injunctions of 'Don't Do Evil' and suchlike.
The prose breezes along effortlessly, and even though at 490 pages it's a longish book it maintains pace and momentum throughout. Sadly, the book is more about the message than it is about the characters or the plot. The central protagonist, Mae Holland, never quite achieves a critical mass of believability, and her supporting cast are generally quite lightly-sketched cardboard cut-outs. Worse is the clunkiness of some of Eggers' metaphors, not least the screaming obviousness of the transparent shark in the executives' fishtank. What could it mean, one is given no chance to wonder. And the plot itself does stray quite deeply into silliness and implausibility. Eggers is clearly not a man to be fazed by a yawning plot-hole; there are several in the book's second half.
Still, overall, and despite these misgivings, this is an entertaining and thought-provoking read which just about scrapes itself a fourth star. It pretty much reads itself, with little or no effort on the reader's part other than suspension of disbelief. After reading it, I'm now wondering whether it's actually all that wise to be posting a review online!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2014
This book has so much potential and I enjoyed reading it but it only half realises its ideas. There is a delicious irony that when you finish it you are guided to Twitter, Facebook and other websites. For those who don't know the book is a dystopia which explores the ramifications of our social media information obsession so it's a bit strange to be now conforming to The Circle by rating the book on Amazon.
Strengths: the book has a good idea as all good dystopia fiction should and it poses some important questions about what would happen to our notion of truth, privacy and community especially if one company owned Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and every other social media site and app.
Weaknesses: the main character and the story. Mae is irritating. She's an anti-hero who is just too dumb. Also these stories require conflict - section 1 is all exposition much of which is repeated as if we didn't pick up the mantra about privacy and truth in the first conversation between the same two characters. Then, shockingly and I'll try to avoid spoilers, the most important moment of the book isn't there! Also Eggers just seems to get bored with characters like Annie and Mae's parents.
Had this been edited properly and developed it would have rightfully taken its place beside other great dystopias that have challenged the way we think about society and control. A thought-provoking novel that has certainly affected the way and how often I've used technology today alone.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2015
The premise of this book is very interesting and certainly pertinent to the age we live in. However, the execution leaves much to be desired.
I think the main problem with this book is that despite ostensibly seeking to present the potentially nefarious nature of social media etc. it refuses to investigate in any meaningful way the complexities of the relationship between democracy/security/openess/participation vs. privacy. The protagonist, Mae Holland, is breath-takingly naive and is rendered a zombie-like acolyte of the Circle cult. The reasons for her being so one-dimensional are never really made clear (it's possible she has self-esteem issues, but why these would necessarily lead to the way she thinks and the choices she makes is far from obvous). But I think worse than this is the presentation of society as a whole as wilfully embracing every privacy-robbing innovation the Circle presents. Indeed, when the issue of privacy is raised by one of the innovators presenting to the Circle on a program that monitors everyone in a neighbourhood, one of the founders dismisses these concerns by saying that privacy issues will present no problem. Really? It's that simple, is it? It's as though Eggers refused to contemplate the possiblity of legitimate and effective resistance in order to write an easier narrative.
However, sadly, even this narrative is fraught with mind-numbingly boring passages relaying, for example, Mae's vital statistics, Mae's zings, smiles, frowns, reviews etc. I wasn't sure if this was a deliberate device used by the author to convey the sheer tedium of such a life, but I did find myself skim-reading a lot of text that was replete with thoroughly unengaging content.
The other problem was the characters: I've already mentioned Mae as a truly irritating protagonist, but even the supporting cast is problematic. The Three Wise Men all emobody a particular hyperbolic stereotype that become caricaturish and almost comical by the end (cue shark metaphor). Eggers sullies the only friendship Mae has with a woman with the "women envy each other and want to tear each other down" cliche. Mercer is clearly only there to provide a (completely ineffective) voice of resistance. Even his fate was really rather ridiculous.
The end of the book is rather hastily arrived at, and it felt as though Eggers just wanted to wrap the whole thing up when potentially that is when things could really have gotten going (and a good 100 or so pages of the preceding content could have been cut)!
So all in all, I think this is material that could have been handled much better. Sadly, what we get in "The Circle" is just not up to the job.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2014
This novel by Dave Eggers is a book I deem so important I really wish everyone would read it - or at least everyone who leads a considerable portion of their lives online, such as many bloggers (myself included), all facebook members, ebay and Amazon shoppers, google profile owners and many more.
In short, Dave Eggers shows with this novel what could happen (and, on a smaller scale, is already happening - kind of) if one company took over ALL online services for banking, shopping, cloud computing, messaging, and so on. That fictitious company is "The Circle", and its goal is to be complete - something someone wants to prevent at all cost.
Mae Holland is a young woman who lands one of the coveted jobs at The Circle, much envied by her contemporaries for what everybody deems a fantastic opportunity. She soon starts letting The Circle take over more and more of her life, and feels good about it - in fact, whenever she does not share something with the entire community (which encompasses nearly all the world), she is made to feel guilty with arguments so convincing you can really imagine this sort of brain-washing taking place.
A mysterious man, wonderfully described as "calligraphic", becomes Mae's lover, but she can't find out anything about him on the Circle's network, something that greatly irritates her. When she finally learns his true identity (the reader of course guessed it long before that), it is too late for her to be saved - and save the world from the omnipresent tentacles of this giant data-collecting octopus The Circle has become.
The novel ends not quite the way I expected, or was hoping for. It is thought-provoking and very well written, quite a nice change to some of the badly (or not at all) edited ebooks I have been reading. I have just found out that The Circle is going to be turned into a film. That is one I definitely want to see.
Please read this, if you have the chance. There is only one negative thing I can say about the book: the print is VERY small, which is why it took me relatively long to complete it - I could not read very long before my eyes grew too tired.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
The Circle is a book that will appeal to readers who like a novel to have a message. A message written in such unambiguous terms that even the most unobservant reader couldn't miss it. It will appeal to readers who like to be beaten around the head with the message until it hurts.
The Circle is an internet service provider that joins people's records together.
We follow new recruit, Mae Holland, as she starts work in the futuristic offices of The Circle, somewhere in the greater San Francisco area. The offices have every amenity an employee could want; free food, free drink, free clothes, free accommodation. There's really no reason to leave. And the emphasis is on community, on fun and participation. Being a Circler is not just a job, it is a way of life. In return for all the free stuff, Circlers are expected to "zing" every second thought that pops into their heads; to respond to surveys; to go to parties; and to join networks.
Mae finds herself drawn into the power centre of the organisation, piloting new technologies and "transparency". She feels fierce loyalty to the organisation, partly because she feels indebted to her personal friend Annie, one of the senior managers who got her the job, and partly because of the support that The Circle has offered to her in her personal life. But she also has to deal with the lack of enthusiasm of her parents and her former partner Mercer. And then there's the mysterious Kalden, a wraith like man who pops out of the office shadows to plant seeds of doubt into Mae's mind.
The Circle's objective is to remove all privacy, open all secrets. Secrets are lies. The goal is to record everything anyone does, from cradle to grave. Of course, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of. People would no longer do things they felt they should hide - an end to crime. And even the recording of the most intimate moments would lose their capacity to embarrass once everyone's intimate moments were captured and made available to everyone else (though observant readers will spot the gaping inconsistency in the plot as bathroom breaks are conveniently allowed to be taken in silence).
The message, of course, is that total transparency is not a good thing and that people need some personal space. But this is a message delivered through staged, set piece speeches and presentations in meetings and seminars. Some characters exist to be nothing more than mouthpieces for these arguments - but of course, the arguments for sharing are grotesque and the arguments against are unanswerable. There is no real prospect of allowing the reader to weigh up arguments and come to his or her own conclusion - the message is so obvious and driven home so relentlessly. The novel would have benefited from allowing shades of grey; from incorporating real moral dilemmas.
The Circle is not all dreadful. The "fantasy office" is created well although it has been done before (e.g. Iain Banks: The Business) and the sense of surveillance is compelling, although owing a debt to The Truman Show. There is a good illustration of "groupthink" at play. But the characterisation is thin and the plot is predictable. The ending - and any of various moments of revelation - feel like they have been telegraphed and floodlit far in advance. Dave Eggers can do better than this...
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2014
Well-written and compelling. I couldn't stop reading. It's a nightmare vision of what might happen in our society if we pursue absolute transparency.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2014
A good idea very poorly delivered. As others have pointed out, the message of the book is blindingly obvious and the book could have been edited down to half the length. The scene with the ex-boyfriend on the bridge was laughable, and could have come from a B Movie. Pity, because the premise itself was good.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of the most remarkable things about Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle is that it hadn’t been written already. Of course (I hear you say), it has, in the form of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as having elements of its scope covered in other media – the likes of Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show and (perhaps) most closely in Charlie Brooker’s frequently brilliant TV dramas Black Mirror (and, quite probably, in other sources I have just not come across or, equally likely, forgotten). But with The Circle, Eggers pulls together just about every thread (almost too systematically, one feels) of 'intrusive technology’ that I (as an unashamed Luddite) can think of – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Big Brother, TV 'talent’ shows, the 'surveillance society’, the corporate 'family’, artificial intelligence, Julian Assange (namedropped here), Leveson, etc, etc – and, most remarkably of all, manages to craft what is (for me, at least) a narrative which matches the novel’s cover blurb – 'prescient’ and 'unputdownable’.
As The Circle’s 'anti-heroine’, twenty-something ex-utility (i.e. 'dull’) worker Mae, finds her life and work transformed (and, effectively, morphed into one) at 'go get ‘em’, 'Silicon Valley’ tech company, The Circle (all-surrounding, geddit?), the only minor flaw I detected in Eggers’ narrative was the speed with which Mae is transformed from a CE (Customer Experience) ‘assistant’ through to being one of the most trusted advisers of the company’s management or Three Wise Men. Pretty much everything else though – obsession with personal self-aggrandisement, technology addiction, public trolling, alienation from 'normal family life’, pressure to conform, 'rubber-necking’ prurience, etc – are absolutely 'on the mark’ (and probably far too accurate for many people). Along the way, Eggers also peppers his story with his trademark quirky characters and metaphors (e.g. the all-devouring 'basic instinct’ of the shark). Of course, the author’s works often blur the boundaries between fact and fiction – although a 'novelisation’ I always view his devastating tale of Sudanese Valentino Achak Deng in What Is The What as closer to non-fiction – and, likewise, The Circle tracks 'real-life’ very closely and is all the more powerful for it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2014
I wasn't sure about reading this novel because - at least in my paperback version - it is almost 500 pages of smallish print with no chapters. But it was recommended to me by Jim Knight who chairs the Tinder Foundation - an organisation promoting digital inclusion - on whose Board I sit. In fact, it proved to be an easy and enjoyable read: it is a very dialogue-driven narrative with regular gaps in the text that makes it something of a page-turner. Unusually for as modern novel, it is remarkably focused in character (24 year old Mae Holland) and place (the California campus of the eponymous company).
What George Orwell's "1984" was to the second half of the 20th century, Dave Eggers's "The Circle" is to the early 21st century: a stark warning of the dangers of ubiquitous surveillance and a defence of the notion of personal privacy.
What makes "The Circle" so chillingly credible - although it is clearly a parody and a satire - is that the company it describes seems to be just a combination and extension of the existing corporate behemoths that already astride the Internet and the Web - the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. And the services that it illustrates seem to be a natural extension of currently evolving technologies - miniature cameras that can be installed any place, tiny drones that can fly anywhere, and wearable technologies that will be with us all the time. In a post-Snowden world, "The Circle" does not appear so much preposterous as prescient.
In the course for the novel, the Circle - "the most influential company in the world" - develops one service after another that increasingly links and exposes information in all its forms, always presenting its innovations as offering a social good (no more child abductions, no more neighbourhood crime, no more political corruption) while step by step stripping away personal freedom and political accountability. So will the Circle be completed - a kind of technological equivalent to the evangelical rapture? If you've read "1984", you won't be too surprised - although the ending is rather sudden and simple.
Eggers is offering us not a prediction but a warning and inviting us really to think of the consequences of the new technologies that enable us to capture, store, connect and access such ever-increasing volumes of public and personal data. It's bound to be made into a film.