The review below contains spoilers.
Before getting to my official Goodreads review, I wanted to add a few more notes about this book. I think what elevates the book as a reading experience is realizing how possible, to some extent, a lot of it is in that dystopian way. And a lot of it, to be honest, is also the cringe factor: waiting to see what level of creepy cringe Mae, the main character, could take before breaking. And it turns out, she not only can take a lot, but she enjoys it.
That’s what elevates the book to my four-star rating. The actual writing is not particularly noteworthy or memorable. The dialogue and characters are rather obvious. For example, the Three Wise Men, who founded The Circle, are are all exactly the character archetypes you expect, and as I mention below, the big plot twist I saw coming the moment it was initiated in the book.
But Eggers’ book is worth it for the themes, and the madness it evokes within you.
Well, I had this book all wrong. Typically, books like this, where you have a normal person thrust into a situation and the delusion slips away? That’s the “sh-t hitting the fan” moment in these books I so love.
But that’s not this book, and for good reason. This book is about how the delusion takes over and continues to subsume Mae, our main character, until she’s irrevocably bought into the Cult, aka, The Circle.
I’m not going to break new ground comparing this to 1984 or Brave New World, but the comparison is there.
1984 with its:
SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT
Sharing is caring has never felt so creepy.
And Brave New World in how the totalitarianism is cloaked as a good thing, but worse here is that it’s a boot stomping on a face forever … and we welcomed the boot.
It was driving me mad that Mae didn’t push back against the madness. The HR department aghast that Mae would dare kayak without documenting it — that was the first giant red flag. And before you know it, bigger and bigger red flags get ignored: Francis surreptitiously recording a sexual encounter with Mae; Mae filming her parents inadvertently in a sex act; Annie’s fully family history on display; and finally, Mae’s ex-boyfriend and friend, Mercer, found by a bunch of sycophants whom want to be his friends, they say, but drive him to suicide.
I will say, one thing I called almost from the moment Kalden appeared in the book is that he was Ty, one of the Three Wise Men who had invented the Circle. He had regrets about how far the company had gone, but by that point, Mae was too far gone to care about his protestations.
One point of utter absurdity is the so-called purification of democracy, where Mae comes up with Demoxie, a program to automatically register all Circle users — Circlers — to vote, and then mandating that they do. Even worse, they do it near-instantaneously. The absurdity comes when they try out a few questions and teeter from, “Should there be more vegetarian options at lunch?” to, “Should we drone this terrorist to death?” Mae and the rest of the Circlers considered the matter for a whopping 71 seconds.
That’s the dark, unsettling comedy of Dave Eggers’ The Circle. Constant, unstoppable thirst for attention and validation through rankings and smiles and viewers. It’s claustrophobic in how all consuming and exhausting it is to be social and connected.
We can’t know everything. And we can’t know everything about everyone. For everything to be transparent and open is to lose something fundamentally human: the ability to not be seen, to disappear into ourselves, to not always be “on” for others, and to be comfortably selfish.
And oddly enough, that thirst to be open and know everything about everyone — Bailey, one of the Three Wise Men, literally wants to know every human and thinks to achieve even part of this, he’d spend three seconds with each human; it would only take 655 years — means we don’t actually know anyone. We know the performative person, nothing personal.