This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.
First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!
We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.
Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.
Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.
Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.
The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.
This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me. I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.
But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.
The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.
Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.
My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?
Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.