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Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

If you thought Big Brother was bad, you’ve not heard of his teenage sister. She’s a tech-savvy queen who has perfected playing the ins-and-outs of the multi-shaded greys of girl-world. If you’re still confused what I mean, think of the two-faced games of fake smiles and back-handed compliments, paired with a network of gossipers where no stone is ever left unturned. In a world governed by social media, Dave Egger’s The Circle offers a far too accurate critique on the unyielding grasp it has wrapped tightly around our necks. As much as I’d like to tell you that Big Brother’s angelic-faced sibling has a heart that could possibly grow three sizes, unfortunately she’s as ruthless and unforgiving as her elder. Perhaps worse. The Circle unfortunately offers an unoptimistic outlook of either a complete brainwashed submission to the technological world, or a deathly escape (literally). Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling it, you’ll still never guess the tense twists and turns throughout.

Dave Eggers dystopian twist on the dangers of modern technology and social media may just be one of the most frightening and realistic worlds I have read yet, having left me – and everybody else I made read it – feeling wide-eyed and full of questions. The more I spoke about this book to people, the more I was recommended similar books, shows and movies to divulge in. The scary part: most of these recommendations have been non-fictional documentations of real-life happenings which made Eggers’ narrative seem a light fairy-tale in comparison (Adam Curtis’ six-part BBC documentary, Can’t Get You Out of My Head (2021), or Shalini Kantayya’s documentary Coded Bias (2020), if you are curious). Anyway, back to the book.

Egger’s The Circle quickly became a life-long favourite. It is an undemanding read which has you captivated from the very first page. The narrative voice flows effortlessly, with a duality of formal mannerisms with an underlying sinister tone that I had never seen work so fluently in writing. Honestly, it still baffles my mind as to how Eggers did this, although I do believe that the portrayal of surface level face-to-face relationships being contradicted with an unrelenting desire to be involved in everybody’s lives online has a large play in that. The protagonist, Mae, albeit a fairly plain and stereotypically ‘female’ role, is easy to connect with. Yet as a proud feminist myself I found it difficult to feel anger towards Eggers for this; dystopian literature makes a critical commentary on humanity and many of the best novelists – including the unbeatably acclaimed Margaret Atwood – often pick up on the qualities of cowardliness and tendencies to follow the crowd which tends to exist in many of us. It is these kinds of qualities which these novelists warn can strengthen the tightening grips of totalitarianism. And, to try not to spoil it, the end is as unoptimistic and unhopeful as Orwell’s 1984, maybe even more so if you remember that Winston was tortured into submission. Perhaps it’s the modern age, with the younger generations having been raised with technology we know no better than to live side by side with it. Horrifyingly, yet unsurprisingly, social media apps have been proven to release high levels of dopamine in the same way as Class-A drugs such as cocaine and heroin do. A key expert in the study of addiction is Dr Anna Lembke, who recently released a new book, Dopamine Addiction (2021) on our booming media addictions, although if you would like a quicker insight, I recommend watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma (2020), in which Dr Lembke also appears to discuss her vital concerns.

The novel follows all the tropes of a typical dystopia: authoritarian power, a loss of humanity, surveillance and individualism, love – or the inability for it – and, of course, technological control. It hits all the right spots. Eggers’ contemporary world, however, is a harrowing and honest critique which is not at all far-fetched from the reality in which we now live, so be prepared for those aimless feelings of vulnerability and discomfort which, in my opinion, you are left with by only the best dystopian novels.

As daunting and chilling as this review is, I hope that I have not discouraged you from reading Eggers’s tale. In comparison to other dystopian narratives written this side of the millennia, Egger’s novel should go down in history alongside the classics for its ingenuity and significance in today’s rapidly evolving technological world.

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Lisa Stevens
Lisa Stevens
03 ene 2022

Excellent review of a great book.

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