Book Review of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

Mob rule with constant surveillance

The glamour of a Silicon Valley tech utopia rings true, and so does the emerging mob rule, and the shifting values of society, and the wedding of big corporation with surveillance government. These are all things that I think about a lot, since I explore mob rule and constant surveillance in my own writing. I am thrilled to see a successful author who dares to dig deep into those themes. I want to hug Dave Eggers just for that.

The Circle brings up great discussion points related to privacy, the spread of information, the peer pressure of social media, and public sharing of everything. The dialogue is very well-written and plausible, and the prose is smooth sailing, pulling me right along as a reader.

But there are some deeper flaws. The point-of-view character is Mae, and the author made her unreliable, lacking in personality, and sort of stupid. He clearly made her that way on purpose, and I’m guessing he did it to emphasize how an “ordinary person” can drink the Kool-Aid of a seeming utopia that exists at the expense of privacy. I like that character choice. It should have worked well … except Mae is barely plausible as an ordinary person. She accepts every suggestion and opinion of her bosses, and she’s oblivious to other people’s pain. She values privacy at first, but then capitulates without any thought or rationale. She has casual sex with strangers, without any of the worries that real women have. She’s just shallow. She comes across as a generic hot chick as written by a guy who probably views women with condescension.

This is a cautionary tale. In my opinion, it could come across as a stronger wake-up call to society if 1) the main character had stronger “nice-but-naive” traits, and 2) if the pro-privacy people in the book used stronger arguments. Not a single one of them mentions the major problems inherent in mob rule. Everyone in this book assumes that sharing everything ensures that crimes can be avoided, yet no one brings up the obvious argument that society decides what a crime is. In some countries, it’s a crime for women to laugh in public, or to get urgent medical care without a male chaperone. They never talk about that in their visions of a global utopia. The whole society is just apparently derp-de-derp oblivious.

It’s still a really good book, and a really relevant tale for our times. Please read it if you’re on the fence. I’d be happy to discuss it.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

1 Comment

  1. Interesting points. I read/reviewed this book a while back as well. I have admired Eggers for years, mostly for the 826 Valencia project and for being the creator of McSweeney’s. I found A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius brilliant but quite difficult to read. Anyway, I appreciated Eggers’ perspective on social media in The Circle (combined with the fact that he himself is not a Twitter user) but I couldn’t quite say I liked this book. Much like Gone Girl, I finished it with a hint of bile in my throat. There is some similarities here in The Circle to the macrocosm of your Torth world (lack of privacy, constant connection with the masses, high degrees of scrutiny of personal thoughts and actions, etc). Thanks for the book review!

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