The Circle (Eggers novel)
Book cover of The Circle
|Cover artist||Jessica Hische|
|October 8, 2013|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback), audiobook, e-book|
|Pages||504 pp. (first edition, hardcover)|
|ISBN||978-0-385-35139-3 (first edition, hardcover)|
The Circle is a 2013 dystopian novel written by American author Dave Eggers. The novel chronicles tech worker Mae Holland as she joins a powerful Internet company. Her initially rewarding experience turns darker.
Mae Holland, a recent college graduate, lands a job at The Circle, a powerful technology company run by the "Three Wise Men"—Tom Stenton, a ruthless businessman; Eamon Bailey, a likeable public figurehead; and Ty Gospodinov, a reclusive genius inventor. Mae owes her job largely to her best friend and old college roommate Annie, one of the forty most influential people in the company, nicknamed the Gang of 40.
Mae starts out in Customer Experience (CE), the firm's customer service department, but quickly climbs the company ladder. From the beginning, Mae is impressed by amenities at The Circle, including access to top-notch technology, dorm-like housing, gyms, recreation activities and parties. Mae's first day at The Circle ends with a party where she encounters Francis, who remains a love interest throughout the rest of the novel. Later, Mae encounters and quickly becomes romantically involved with a mysterious colleague named Kalden, even though she is unable to verify his status at the company or even obtain his last name. However, they have a lot of chemistry and Mae overlooks her failure to find or contact him and resigns herself to waiting for him to appear.
Mae struggles to adapt to certain aspects of the company, such as keeping up with online life and participating in campus activities. Though her boss, Dan, claims this participation is “optional,” it is clear that her job at the company is dependent upon her online and in-person participation in activities and events. In an effort to prove herself to her boss, to Annie, and to the company, Mae obsessively improves her online Participation Rank (PartiRank) until she is one of the top and most active users in the entire company.
Meanwhile, The Circle continues to develop a range of sophisticated technologies, including SeeChange: light, portable cameras that can provide real-time, high-quality video with minimal effort. They film almost everything and therefore should stop criminal actions, because criminals would be recorded as well. Eventually, SeeChange cameras are worn all day long by politicians wishing to be 'transparent', allowing the public to see what they are seeing at all times.
Another subplot is the worsening symptoms of Mae's father with multiple sclerosis, which quickly leads Mae to enroll her parents on her healthcare, on the condition that they install SeeChange cameras in their home.
Mae becomes more indoctrinated into the Circle's way of life and less interested in Kalden's mystery, instead finding it frustrating that he is not open with information like the other Circle members. She begins favoring Francis, who, though awkward and pathetic, is open about his feelings for her.
After unethically “borrowing” a kayak without the owner’s knowledge and almost getting arrested, Mae ends up onstage with Bailey (one of the three Wise Men) in front of an audience of the entire company, being manipulated into creating several company mantras: “secrets are lies,” “sharing is caring,” and “privacy is theft.” At the end of the assembly, Bailey announces that Mae will wear a SeeChange device on her person full-time (called going transparent), effective immediately. Mae's job now mainly consists of touring the campus and showing customers future products; any hints of her own doubts about privacy seem dropped, in contrast to her ex-boyfriend Mercer. Mercer dislikes the internet and eventually completely goes off the grid to flee from the crushing, far-reaching influence of The Circle and its technologies. Meanwhile, more politicians are going clear (aka becoming transparent), some with their entire staffs as well, and soon more politicians than not have gone clear. Kalden calls Mae, warning her that The Circle must be stopped, but she refuses to listen. Mae’s indoctrination into the company and its use of peer pressure to invoke “herd mentality” is directly contrasted by the character of her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. Mercer represents a small portion of the book’s world that rejects The Circle’s ever more intrusive technologies. Throughout the novel, he goes from having a benign distaste for the ways of the present to frantically attempting to escape from his doomed society.
Mae continues her relationship with Francis and drifts away from Kalden. Her sex life with Francis is very disappointing, as they never have sex due to his tendency to get overexcited before anything happens. He insists she rate his skills in bed on a scale of 1-100 and she replies "100" every time he asks.
Meanwhile, Annie becomes envious of Mae's success at the Circle and volunteers to be the test subject for PastPerfect, a new product that tracks a person's family history and activities, to regain her standing within the company. The relationship between Mae and Annie has become increasingly strained, as Annie is used to being in a position of power over Mae and does not like how the tables have turned. During their polite discourse, Annie subtly taunts Mae without the audience catching on, mentioning her parents when she knows they haven't contacted Mae in weeks.
Mae is told by her doctor that her parents have disabled most of their SeeChange cameras and is encouraged to drive to their house ASAP. Mae does so, hoping there has been a mistake, but is dismayed to find that her parents seem to have no interest in their SeeChange cameras and seem ungrateful about the well-meaning deluge of online messages they've received from Mae's fans, not to mention their obvious discomfort with the fact that Mae streams the entire visit live to her millions of fans. Mae's parents hand her a letter written by Mercer before she leaves the house. She opens it in the car and finds a long message about how the Circle is taking over the entire world and Mercer happily helped her parents disable their SeeChange cameras. Furious and confused, she runs back to the house and, upon finding them, accidentally livestreams an intimate moment in their bedroom. She calls Bailey in a panic, but he refuses to delete the footage. She flees the house.
The Wise Men have been dropping hints about the "Completion" of the Circle. No one knows what this means but they are certain it will be amazing. Mae, onstage with Bailey again, cautiously suggests the idea that people should vote through the Circle and Circle accounts should become mandatory for all citizens. The idea is warmly received and the Circle immediately begins designing it, calling it "Demoxie."
Mae, while demonstrating a program designed to catch fugitives within minutes, uses it to find Mercer. After being surrounded and chased by dozens of Circlers, Mercer attempts to escape using his truck, so Mae has Circlers send drones after him, ignoring his increasing panic and terror. After being harassed for several minutes as people, Mae included, yell at him using the drones’ speakers, Mercer realizes he can never escape the Circle and he intentionally drives off a bridge in front of the billion people Mae is streaming to. While initially depressed, Mae soon rationalizes Mercer's death with the help of charismatic 'Wise Man' Bailey, concluding that he was an extremely depressed, asocial human being who refused society's help, comparing his actions to a person committing suicide by jumping out of the window when being visited by a doctor.
Disturbing facts about Annie's family history come to light due to PastPerfect, and Annie becomes increasingly stressed. While in the bathroom stall next to Mae, the only time when Mae's audio is ever muted, she reveals the toll it is taking on her and starts rambling about how some things should remain private. Shortly after she and Mae part, Annie collapses at her desk and falls into a catatonic state, unbeknownst to Mae. Mae, meanwhile, reveals to her watchers the conversation they had in the bathroom, telling her fans she should have been transparent with them, and begs for them to be lenient with Annie about her ancestors' mistakes. She is later congratulated by Bailey for her honesty.
At a live showing of creatures the Circle found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench via Mae's SeeChange necklace, which she wears nonstop until she goes to bed (as a part of her condition of going clear), Mae is joined by all three Wise Men and, upon meeting Ty, the elusive founder of the Circle, realises he is Kalden. Mae agrees to meet him in secret shortly thereafter, wondering if his past and current behavior has simply been a test by the Wise Men, but he tells her that the Completion of the Circle is a totalitarian regime that will soon arise if nothing is done to stop it, equating it to a surveillance society and saying Demoxie is what the other Wise Men have been waiting for. He explains the need for privacy in the digital age and asks her to help him take down The Circle, saying he cannot do it alone and she is the only one with enough influence who can help him. Mae originally states that he is crazy, then seems swayed by his words and agrees to help.
The book cuts to Mae looking at Annie in a coma at the hospital, sometime after her interaction with Ty. It is revealed that Mae revealed everything to the other Wise Men, who apprehended Ty and ensured he had no more influence over the company. She believes she has done an amazing service to humanity. Mae wonders when the time will come that The Circle will develop enough technology to read people's thoughts, saying that "the world deserves nothing less and would not wait".
In the weeks before book's 2013 release in the United States, Kate Losse, a former Facebook employee, accused Eggers of plagiarizing her memoir The Boy Kings and the media of gender bias in favoring Eggers' novel with more literary praise and attention. In a statement released by his publisher, Eggers told said that he had not read Losse's book, nor had Losse read The Circle when she made her claims, aside from an excerpt in the New York Times. Eggers clarified that he "didn't want The Circle to seem to be based on any extant companies or upon the experiences of any employees of any extant companies."
Upon the book's summer 2014 release in German, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel's Thomas Andre gave a favorable review: "The Circle is a genre novel, with its simplistic fabrication meant to be obvious. The symbolism is abundantly clear, because it is Eggers' only way of bringing his message to the ear: How do we mean to handle the right to sovereignty of interpretation over one's own life in the future?" On the other hand, German blogger and internet columnist Sascha Lobo called the book a "demonization" of internet companies that offers no actual arguments.
A film based on the novel, adapted and directed by James Ponsoldt, was released in April 2017. Emma Watson (Mae Holland), Tom Hanks (Bailey), Karen Gillan (Annie), Ellar Coltrane (Mercer) and John Boyega (Kalden) play the lead roles. The film made over $40 million worldwide but it received negative reviews. The film review website, Rotten Tomatoes, gave the adaptation a rating of 16/100. The Rotten Tomatoes site also offers the following quote as a critic consensus: "The Circle assembles an impressive cast, but this digitally driven thriller spins aimlessly in its half-hearted exploration of timely themes."
Some plot points and characters from the book were changed or removed for the film due to a need to narrow down the story so that it fits into a two-hour film. Smaller details such as Annie dressing up Mae's desk at The Circle to look identical to the one from her previous job were eliminated to make the plot come across as more serious. The character of Francis, Mae's love interest, was removed, as was the episode of Annie falling into a coma. The ending's tone was also changed to make Mae appear more sympathetic as opposed to her depiction in the book, where she does not sympathize with anyone who may be impacted by her choices.
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- Truffaut-Wong, Olivia. "'The Circle' Changed A Big Part Of The Book". Bustle. Retrieved 2018-05-10.
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