The Circle is a dystopian novel written by Dave Eggers and published in 2013. It depicts a totalitarian world run by the Circle, an incredibly powerful company that “changed” the Internet almost overnight.
Mae Holland is a young woman who has just joined the Circle. The company began by creating a unique online identity for all transactions, comments and actions online, thus rendering the current system we know obsolete. No more anonymous comments! No more purchases made with a different username and password for each website. Mae gets pulled into the company’s ideology that quickly erases all right to privacy, not just online but in real life.
What I thought of The Circle
The author is quite well-known and from what I can tell, a fair amount of people expected a lot of this book. I just stumbled across it on Goodreads myself, and my love of dystopian novels was enough for me to start reading it without doing any prior research. Once I had finished, I checked the reader reviews on Goodreads and the general consensus is that the book isn’t the author’s best work.
The story felt quite awkward as it insisted an awful lot on points that were fairly obvious to begin with. The Circle is compared to heaven from the very first line, and the lexical field of religion is kept up until the end, with words like “blasphemous” used for all slurs pronounced against the company and the three founders being called the “Wise Men”. There were quite a few other metaphors that the author insisted on really driving home until they felt overused, like a blanket that has gone through the washing machine one too many times.
I was intrigued by the fact that the main character is a woman as almost all of the dystopian novels I’ve read (the basics: Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Hunger Games) focus mainly on a man. Unfortunately, Mae was a bit of a disappointment for me. Her need to be liked is her most overwhelming feature, which makes her a perfect target for the Circle’s philosophy.
However, it doesn’t make for a likeable main character, especially given the beginning of the novel that is promising on that level. Mae goes from feebly contesting a few less important Circle rules to suddenly embracing every single oppressive oddity with all of her being. I could have accepted that if it was written to make me understand or at least follow how she got there, but it wasn’t.
The most original part of this book is the fact that it follows the progressive indoctrination of a society that willingly (happily!) gives up its fundamental liberties. I was reminded of Apple that has managed to get people to start screaming with excitement about the launch of one of their new products. The resemblance here was strong and to be frank, it lacked basic subtlety.
I did enjoy reading about how the company turns the notion of privacy into a potential crime, with Circle employees fully believing this thanks to a progressive brainwashing that is greatly aided by money, consumerism and fear. The initial process of indoctrination made for some eye-opening chapters. Most dystopian novels I’ve read describe a nightmarish society that has already existed for a while or the story of people who try to put an end to an oppressive regime (except for Animal Farm). This novel was very different in that respect.
This wasn’t a great book in my opinion, but I’m glad I read it. I would have liked it to say more, but it was still an interesting read!