It seems as if this author has attempted to write an updated version of 1984 with a bit of Dante’s Inferno thrown into the mix. Big Brother in this case is The Circle, a Google-like company that seeks to control every social interaction on the planet.
The story is told from the point of view of Mae Holland, a 24-year-old “newbie” at the company, all bright-eyed and eager, who buys into the company’s philosophy so thoroughly she is soon contributing her own bromides to be used as company mottos: Secrets Are Lies, Sharing is Caring, and Privacy is Theft. (These resonate with company denizens even more than the catchphrases already used by The Circle, such as All That Happens Must Be Known. Mae’s sayings are, after all, not only half the length, but mimic more closely the slogans used by the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984, viz.: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.)
Rising through the company with spectacular speed (and ridiculously unrealistic work output), Mae soon becomes the “Virgil” (as in Dante’s Inferno) of The Circle, using her ever-present videocam/microphone to guide the outside world to the wonders of the company and its activities. The adoration and feedback Mae receives turn her into something like a rat on cocaine. Soon she is working even more incessantly to elicit higher ratings and accolades, and becoming ever more obsequious and blind to the shark-like predations of The Circle.
After a while, nothing is sacred to Mae anymore – not her family nor her former friends. The only thing that unsettles her perfect serenity is the occurrence of occasional visits from a mysterious guy named Kalden, who keeps warning her about The Circle, and trying to get her to turn on the company.
Who is Kalden and what’s his agenda? And will Mae even be able to pay attention? Or will the author emulate Orwell yet again with his ending?
Discussion: To say this book jumps the shark would be too meta, given that there is an actual omnivorous shark kept in a tank at the innermost depths of The Circle. But this book is so allegorical, so “anvilicious” that the characters (and aquatic creatures), who are more Types or Symbols than people, just didn’t engage me at all. [As described by tvtropes. org, “anvilicious” describes the use of dialogue or plot points to convey a particular message in such an obvious or unsubtle way that the author may as well etch it onto an anvil and drop it on your head.]
As for Mae, she is so utterly shallow and (to employ an appropriate contronym, or word that is its own antonym) dense, that it beggars belief that Kalden would (a) take an interest in her and (b) think that she could actually plumb some not-even-hinted-at depth of character.
Evaluation: I have heard so many great things about this author; I was hoping for perhaps an even more sophisticated and ominous version of the book Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. Instead, I felt robbed after I finished it. This is not to say there isn’t plenty to worry about from the growth of “Big Data” and “HyperData” and increasing availability of surveillance tools, but I think Eggers erred by trying too hard to be like George Orwell.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, 2013