I saw the trailer for a film coming out this year, called The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. It looked like a really interesting thriller, and when it said “based on the best selling book”, I realised that this was the book Amazon kept recommending to me. So I bought the book. Big mistake. Huge.
The trailer looks so good! The description of the book seemed really interesting. So what went wrong?
From the blurb:
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 America–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.
The novel starts by introducing us to Mae. Mae is a recent graduate who hates her life. She wants a brilliant job, but is stuck at the bottom of the ladder. Eventually she decides to swallow her pride and ask her university roommate Annie to get her a job. Annie is a bigwig at this massive technology and lifestyle company, The Circle. The Circle is what would be produced if Apple and Google had a baby.
There is a lot of exposition about Mae, which goes into great detail without actually providing much insight into her character or motivations. She had a boyfriend called Mercer who is a bit anti-social media, she likes to kayak, her dad has MS and she’s an entitled brat. Seriously, all she does is feel badly done to, because other people are doing better than her. Mae seems to think that she should be in a high position simply because she went to University. She doesn’t seem to put any effort into anything. I mean, The Circle does turn out to be a cult, but this amazing opportunity is dropped on her and she just bitches about the fact they want her to attend Circle functions. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
From pages 130-200 you see that the Circle is very cult like. Mae is getting drawn further into an isolated world where The Circle is everything. She starts to take part in surveys as well as her day job. This means that whilst she is answering customer service queries she is also answering Her opinions matter to The Circle. She had a duty to share her preferences. She wants to be the best Circler. She puts in more hours at work, answers thousands of survey questions. Going outside of the campus starts to be an effort, she can get everything she needs for free, she doesn’t need to go anywhere.
As Mae becomes more in tune with her fellow Circlers, she comes to the conclusion that hiding any part of herself is lying. Privacy is lying. Mae decides to “go transparent”, meaning her whole life will be documented and streamed to a live audience.
In the next 290 pagesMae finds it difficult to connect with people outside of the Circle, her family don’t think that privacy should be sacrificed for the greater good. As The Circle nears “completion” (no one knows what this means, but it sounds cool), humanity has to choose a side; you’re either with The Circle, or against them. If knowledge is power, and The Circle controls all knowledge, how can anyone hope to hide?
Overall this was a good idea, poorly executed. It was long winded, preachy, and transparent (pun intended). The pace was off all through the book; things would start to move the plot forward, then we’d get bother 80 pages of unrelated Circle waffle. I think it was supposed to come across as 1984 for the digital age, but it was just sooo much effort to read. The story could have been told in half the number of pages. Mae was shallow, unsympathetic and just completely unlikeable. I’ve read a few reviews suggesting that Mae is supposed to be an empty vessel, that this is the whole point, but I’m not convinced. At no point do you consider that Mae would betray The Circle. Mae demonstrates time and time again that she will walk all over the people in her life to get ahead.
I truly believe that the film will be one of those rare “better than than the book” movies. Wait for the film, don’t read the book.
Let me know if you’ve read this book and your thoughts in the comments below.