14 December 2013

Review: The Circle

The Circle
The Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5.

I might just be perceiving things differently, but I never considered Dave Eggers to be the type of author who is... direct. There's usually a lot of odd pseudo-stream-of-consciousness stuff or more experimental ideas, but the idea of a Dave Eggers novel that feels both modern and accessible feels kind of foreign.

The Circle is effectively Dave Eggers making an attempt at 1984 for the Google age. It's equal parts near-futurism, social commentary, and scaremongering cautionary tale, which means it's inherently readable and also kind of infuriating at the same time.

The story is mostly about Mae, a woman in her mid-twenties who is recruited to work at The Circle, a tech company in California best known for its search engine but is expanding into a bunch of different markets. Very quickly, Mae learns about how all-encompassing working at The Circle is - it's less a job as much as it is a way of life, and it's a way of life that The Circle wants to expand into the general population. During the course of the story, we see these thoughts, ideas, and intentions expand and see their impact on society as well as Mae's family and friends themselves.

The issue with this is that Eggers is very clearly aping 1984 in that The Circle is essentially how he views Google in a nutshell. We fear the dystopia of 1984 because it's people with actual control over us, but the fear from The Circle is less pronounced, so he essentially has to create it differently in order to make his point about voluntary surveillance. In Eggers's world, there aren't a lot of privacy-minded people, there basically aren't any internet trolls to speak of, and companies of tens of thousands inspire cultish devotion as opposed to dissent and discussion. It's not realistic - 1984 worked because we knew it was an extreme caricature of a possible future, while The Circle, at least in its own tone, feels as if it's describing an actual probable future, doing so with often-clunky dialogue and inorganic scenes that pulled me out of the narrative almost as quickly as I fell into it.

Overall, it's a good read in part because it's Dave Eggers, but it's a read that doesn't work because of a lot of its fatal flaws. Were it 300 pages and less preachy, maybe it would be more successful for me. As it stood, though, there was a lot to take issue with that dragged the whole narrative down.

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