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The Circle by Dave Eggers

November 24, 2017


I have read most of what Eggers has written. Although his body of work is uneven, I am a big fan of his. As he’s moved away from the stylistic experimentation of his early work, he’s shown what a strong storyteller he is. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy The Circle.

The Circle is about a woman, Mae Holland, who starts a job and then rises through the ranks at a Facebook-like Silicon Valley company called The Circle. The Circle has the extravagances and borderline creepy rituals of any standard Silicon Valley company. Its employees work day and night developing world-changing technology with the apparently sincere belief that they’re changing the world for the better. Of course, reality isn’t so simple. The Circle’s overarching mission—to make every piece of information public—doesn’t sit well with some people inside and outside of the company.

There are very good and important points to make around privacy as it relates to social media. The problem is that the point Eggers seems to be making—that total global transparency is a bad idea—is obvious. As such, it sets a tough challenge for the characters, including Mae, who have to make the case for things like putting cameras everywhere and requiring everyone to broadcast every second of their lives. Absurd arguments are left unchallenged in service of moving the plot along in what is a fairly predictable direction. The result is that the whole novel feels very long. I found myself skimming through scenes just to confirm that it was going where I thought it was.

On top of this, the writing, particularly the dialogue, is surprisingly bad at times. It’s heavy-handed and often feels like the characters exist only to play out banal arguments. At other times, it reads like a teen romance.

I work in Silicon Valley at one of the big tech companies. A lot of what Eggers includes is standard for these big companies, so maybe I just didn’t find it that interesting. But I would have hoped for something more thought-provoking. Any industry so big and powerful deserves scrutiny, at the very least mockery (Silicon Valley is one of the funniest shows on TV). But The Circle doesn’t go for quick jokes. It tries to make a big argument. Unfortunately, after a long walk, it comes up with meh.

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