Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: The Circle

This month, I named Dave Eggers’ ‘The Circle’ my best book of 2013, which doesn’t mean that I would hold it up as the supreme literary achievement of the past 12 months, but that it was my favourite book I read. I was always going to be pre-disposed to like it, given that it shares similarities with Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and particularly George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, both of which are among my all-time favourite novels. Indeed, it’s a common cliché, but this is one time that I think it rings true – I expect that most people who love either of those books will love this too (and if you didn’t like them, then probably give this a miss).

The story revolves around the character of young Mae Holland, who has been recruited to the world’s biggest internet company the Circle, which is like a mega-Google, a hyper-Facebook, or a super-duper-YouTube. The Circle takes their vision of being not only a business but a huge social community (though the two are intertwined) very seriously, and they expect their employees to do so as well. Finding out just how crazy the Circle is forms most of the intrigue in this book, even though none of it is particularly surprising. But perhaps, as Orwell wrote, ‘The best books … are those that tell you what you know already.’

After reading this book, some might be half-tempted to immediately shut down their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts … though I think I’ll keep mine. Eggers’ portrayal of a world obsessed with watching each other may be exaggerated, but readers will surely recognise some of their own strands of behaviour in the characters’ continual quests for followers and likes. ‘The Circle’ has enough postmodern goodies, including discussions about what is the real self, and the boundaries between the private and public spheres to get it included on dozens of college and university reading lists. But like Orwell’s classic, it is accessible enough to get it on the large bookstore chains’ Top 100 favourite books lists as well. Mindless reality TV stole the concept of Big Brother, this book takes it back.

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