I became interested in reading THE CIRCLE by David Eggers after seeing it mentioned in Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers’ THE BESTSELLER CODE, in which they presented an algorithm for rating the likelihood of books being bestsellers based on a range of metrics. THE CIRCLE was the only book to get a perfect 100 score, marking it as the idealized bestseller.
The movie is of course similar but far more conventional than the book. The movie theme: Privacy and change are good, but corporate control is bad, and our hero Mae knows which side she’s on. The book is very different and much darker than the movie, plus plenty more richly detailed, making it a far more interesting story.
In the novel, Mae, working a dead-end job at a utility company, is offered a job at The Circle, a massive technology corporation that created a system to unite all social media, bill-paying, entertainment, and other functions into a single simple platform. Very quickly, Mae takes to the job and the company’s progressive, intelligent, fast-paced culture, but soon comes under fire for not being social or sharing or transparent enough. More and more social responsibility and public engagement, including various rankings, requirement to endorse products, etc., pile onto her until she finds herself living for (and later at) the company, a true believer in an idealized corporation that might best be described as a cult.
Thematically, the book is incredible, packed with cultlike technology companies, workaholism, corporate control of private information and behavior, subsuming of one’s personality, privacy versus the public good, social pressure and neurotic online behavior, fake behavior because everything is public, online mob mentality, snap, oversimplifed judgments on consequential issues, and more. By the end of the novel, Mae, who is highly impressionable (kind of a complaint, as she’s a weak character among strong secondary characters, though this works for the story), completely loses what identity she had.
The book could have had a stronger ending with a more significant climax that wasn’t quite so on-the-nose in its symbolism, and Mae is often frustrating in how meekly she accepts others’ control of her behavior and even her thinking, but overall, I quite enjoyed the read. The writing is good, the story is good, but the themes Eggers nails are powerful and extremely provocative.