I will admit that, occasionally, I will pick up books simply because actors I like are starring in the movie adaptation. Which is exactly what happened with Dave Egger’s The Circle (soon to be made into a film starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks). The movie isn’t set to come out until later this year, which meant it was the perfect time to (finally) picking up the book, which has been sitting on my shelves for months.
Mae Holland has been given the opportunity of a lifetime: a job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful tech company. The Circle, run out of a sprawling (and all-encompassing) California campus, combines every aspect of online life – bank accounts, social media, email, digital storage, etc. – into a single profile per user, ushering in the age of digital civility and transparency. Mae is thrilled to work at the most influential company in the world, and quickly finds herself pulled farther and farther away from her life outside The Circle. As her life becomes increasingly public, Mae is fully immersed into The Circle. Still, she has to balance a maybe boyfriend who goes a little too far (both in The Circle and in their relationship), a mysterious Circler who lacks an online presence, her best friend Annie, her family (and their love for her ex), and the charismatic Wise Men. What begins as the tale of one young woman’s ambition transforms into a novel of suspense, raising questions of memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
If you took 1984 and set it in the present or near future, you’d get The Circle. It was just as terrifying and intriguing as Orwell’s classic. And it left me thinking about it just as long. Ironically, I’m not big on social media. I use my blog accounts – where I’m relatively anonymous – far more often my personal social media accounts. I just hate the idea of everyone knowing what I’m doing and where I am all the time. It’s a little creepy. Naturally, The Circle made me extremely anxious, because it details a world in which online presence is basically mandatory (one character tries to go off the grid with disastrous consequences). Nonetheless, it was a highly compelling story, one that kept me reading.
As for the characters, well, that’s a bit more complicated. I really hated the main character, Mae. She’s naive and ridiculous, and makes decisions that had me nearly yelling into the book. And for the most part, it worked. Eggers managed to write the rare main character who is annoying and sympathetic, while serving the story well. That said, I didn’t quite get why she went into everything unquestioning. There were a few things that happened that were really not okay, and she just went along with them, which made me like her so much less. I wish there had been more conflict there. (I am really interested to see Emma Watson play a character I don’t like, though.) (And to be clear, I like Mae as a fictional creation, but not a character/person. If that makes sense.) But the other characters were great! Annie and Kalden were favorites. Bailey was interesting, because I wanted to dislike him, but didn’t. And I don’t want to give away too much else, just know there are some wonderfully dimensional secondary characters.
I also thought the setting was cool. It was clearly inspired by Google (and the rest of Silicon Valley). It was interesting to see the inner-workings of a company like that, where everything is in the same place, and people rarely – if ever – leave. I think it played into the story well, and was overall a really interesting place.
Overall, I thought The Circle was a really great book. I enjoyed the story and the characters, but I also think it’s highly relevant in today’s society. It’s a nice cautionary tale for anyone who overuses (or just uses) social media. If anything, it’ll make you think twice about checking in on Facebook. I can’t wait to see the movie!
Have you read The Circle? What are your thoughts on social media and where it’s headed?