Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: The Circle

Summary: When Mae Holland 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. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—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. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. -- Vintage

This month, my book club read THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers. I had a feeling that someone would pick this novel because a few of the members in my group had already read this book and loved it. I admit that I did think many of the subjects in this story would make for a compelling discussion, but I was less than thrilled by the length of this book. (I know that sounds awful, but I really have a hard time with books around 500 pages!)

THE CIRCLE is a dystopian tale about what could happen if social media could totally infiltrate all aspects of our lives. Mae Holland was thrilled when she was hired by the Circle, the world's most influential company. The company had the best and the brightest employees and its campus location made it possible for employees to get almost everything they need in one place. The Circle was a company that combined almost all things "internet" including email, banking, purchases, and more. The goal was total transparency -- scary, right?

Mae loves her job and the perks that come with it. She even manages to make some friends and find a romantic interest... or two. However, her world drastically changes when her role at the Circle becomes increasingly visible to everyone in the world! Can Mae balance her desire to do well at the Circle with her and her family's personal privacy? Needless to say, Mae's new responsibilities bring to light many relevant issues about privacy, transparency, and the greater good of society.

THE CIRCLE was a very good book club selection; however, I didn't love it like I had hoped. Truth be told, I think I'm the only member of my book club that didn't rave about this novel. Maybe I had my expectations set too high, but the book just seemed a little far-fetched to me. I guess what I'm saying is that the story was book was good -- not great, and I did think the story dragged in quite a few places. I just wanted more from the character development, the suspense aspects of the story, and the way the novel ended.

Having said that, I do think THE CIRCLE was very interesting and I appreciated how the author gave readers so much to think about. His thinly veiled references to Twitter, Facebook, Google and how much they can affect our lives was no doubt fascinating (and a little scary!), and I loved how he showed how social media and our "obligation" to it can take over our lives. I also really enjoyed seeing some relevant issues addressed like the pros and cons of privacy and transparency. There is absolutely no doubt that this novel made me think, often times in an uncomfortable way; and it did generate a lot of discussion for our group.

What fell short for me in THE CIRCLE was the actual story itself. I really didn't like Mae and never truly felt an affinity for her. I realize it isn't supposed to matter whether I liked her or not, but I just couldn't overcome my many issues with her character. In addition, I felt like parts of the novel (and one major one in particular) were very predictable... almost so much so that I rolled my eyes when the surprise was finally revealed.

And realize when I say this that most of my book club disagreed with me... but I thought the way the book rose to its "suspenseful" conclusion was just plain silly. The book just got too over-the-top for me. I realize that the author was probably trying to make his points (and build suspense) with his descriptions of the shark tank and more, but it just wasn't my cup of tea nor all that effective.

Despite my feelings about THE CIRCLE, I am glad that I read it; and it definitely made for an interesting discussion. One thing we enjoyed talking about is how different our kids are with social media. There is definitely less transparency, both a good thing and a bad thing in my opinion; and things that make my generation cringe will probably not be an issue in just a few more years. We also talked about bit about some of the literary elements the author used to make his point. You can probably tell by now that I was generating this aspect of the discussion.

There is a reader's guide with 19 questions, but unfortunately we didn't use it. Our discussion was pretty lively, but I do think it might have helped us to cover even more. Some of the themes you might want to explore include privacy, memories, transparency, honestly, secrets, progress, technology, future, past, health care, and sacrifices.

Overall, THE CIRCLE is an interesting read about technology and our future. Recommended to fans of suspense and dystopian stories.


bermudaonion said...

I read one Eggers book - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - after Vance brought it home from college. I liked it a lot but it lost steam for me part way through the book. I'm not sure I'd enjoy a dystopian novel by him.

Beth F said...

I too read one Eggers book (I forget the title!) and wasn't overly impressed for some of the same reasons you mention for this book. I suspect he's just not an author for me.