Review – The Circle by Dave Eggers

By | October 28, 2013

Every so often, I really like to step a little outside my reading comfort zone. I did it with Wool by Hugh Howey, again with The Coincidence Authority by JW Ironmonger, and loved them both. This was another book that I really wanted to try as soon as I’d read the description:

When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public …

I guess most of us – increasingly living our lives through it as we do – have a fascination with the all-seeing eye of the internet, so the subject matter was immediately attractive. The author worried me more – Dave Eggers, who wrote Zeitoun and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Are we into literary book prize territory here? Prizewinners and nominations no-one reads, something too clever by half? The answer is a resounding “no” – I found this book a total page turner, absolutely mind-blowing in its invention, and I’d comfortably recommend it to anyone who has my fascination with the subject and loves a good story. If you’ve read anything by Michael Crichton and enjoyed it, you’ll be just fine with this one: that sounds almost insulting to the author, but it’s meant as the absolute opposite.

Mae, working in a dead end job for a utility company, secures a job with the Circle through her college friendship with Annie. The Circle is a magnificent creation – a campus where you can live your life, a bracelet on your arm to monitor your vital signs, where your social networking is mandatory, where your day is punctuated by customer surveys that require you to nod/shake head/say “meh”, where every action is driven by the need for a 100% satisfaction score. New initiatives are constantly introduced, and everything remains essentially warm and cuddly and caring – the company even picks up the health cover for her dad who has MS – until the idea forms (and ideas become reality at terrifying speed) of a single on line identity and the concept of “transparency” (nothing hidden, which quickly spreads worldwide, and involves broadcasting your life from an attached camera). That’s when things start to become really frightening.

There are so many ideas in this book that it almost makes your head hurt. But it’s immensely readable because its narrative is compelling and the focus throughout sits with Mae – she’s human, a loyal friend, enthusiastic, naive, loyal, trusting, but the journey she makes through her involvement with the Circle is quite mesmerising. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, whatever your preferred type of reading – it’s tremendously shocking, a look at the internet world of the future and the nature of large IT corporations that will make your blood run cold. Don’t miss this one – I guarantee you’ll never “like” a Facebook post again without thinking of it. .

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Penguin UK for the advance reading e-copy. Published for Kindle, hardcover and in paperback on 10th October 2013.

Dave Eggers is the author of six previous books, including “Zeitoun,” a nonfiction account of a Syrian-American immigrant and his extraordinary experience during Hurricane Katrina and “What Is the What,” a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award. The author is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces a quarterly journal, a monthly magazine (“The Believer”), and “Wholphin,” a quarterly DVD of short films and documentaries. In 2004, he taught at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and co-founded Voice of Witness, a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. A native of Chicago, Dave Eggers graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.

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