The Circle – a dystopic fiction novel which has recently been adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson – is Dave Eggers’ light-fingered satirical assassination of Silicon Valley-based megalomania. If you’re drawn to sci-fi of a more cerebral nature (think The Truman Show-meets-The Social Network), then it’s easy to see why I got excited by the synopsis of this book. However, upon finishing it, I couldn’t help feel as if it was a wasted opportunity.
Following the tyrannical tangents gushing from the algorithmic thought processes of the Zuckerbergs of this world, Eggers’ novel is an ambitious if slightly limp dystopia about a powerful internet company who knows all of your secrets (personal emails, social media, home finances, etc.) and evangelises on the issue of transparency (‘Secrets are lies,’ ‘Sharing is caring,’ ‘Privacy is theft,’ etc.). Nothing like Facebook or Google at all then!
The Circle follows Mae Holland who embarks on a Winston Smith-esque journey into the heart of this sinister corporation – akin to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – however she appears fairly blinkered. Like many twentysomethings, she is a victim of social media as much as the rest of us, and buys into the illusion of a harmonious operating system even as its insidiousness starts to become clearer. As you can probably tell, the story is very timely, but it didn’t quite 100% strike its targets for me, almost as though the lack of a moral agent killed whatever point the story had hoped to make.
Whether the Circle is describing the present day or the not-too-distant future, there are obvious satirical parallels with our post-privacy internet age. However, if Eggers intended this book to be a savage takedown of techno-utopianism, it fell a little bit flat. Perhaps the author’s cynicism was in some way tempered by his own fascination with the technology itself. Like many of us when it comes to embracing new media, Eggers is suspicious of possible snake oil, but leaves the reader feeling undecided as to its potential health benefits. Moral inaction and groupthink seems to be the default setting in this book. I ask myself: What is the author actually trying to say? As fiction goes, this is homeopathy, and as any self-respecting doctor will tell you, it’s a poor substitute for pharmaceutical treatment.
However, if you’re a fan of Charlie Brooker’s TV show Black Mirror, I recommend you seek this out. Admittedly, Dave Eggers has written better work than this, but it’s clear he’s stretching himself as a novelist and wishes to address bigger topics. If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment, albeit on the average side, but it will definitely strike a chord with the more sceptical-minded among us. For that alone, even if at times The Circle verges on the pedestrian, Eggers deserves nothing less than a clap on the back. We need more authors willing to explore these issues.
© 2017 Luke Edley
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Poet, humorous fiction writer and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.