A dystopian novel about a future that seems frighteningly within reach, Dave Eggers’s “The Circle” focuses on the pervasiveness of modern technology and its potential to overtake the fundamental ways in which our society functions. Although the novel is at times too verbose, its core premise is fascinating; Eggers’s thought-provoking ideas merit reflection and discussion.

“The Circle” centers on a technology company of the same name, an immensely powerful enterprise that uses social media platforms and online sites — including Facebook, Google and Twitter — to create a unified data-sharing platform that allows for total transparency of thought. The plot follows a new hire named Mae Holland as she transitions to life at the Circle and learns about the values it promotes and the progress it fosters. With control of most of the world’s information, the Circle has the money to fund the exploration and development of all ideas that its leaders deem worthwhile, ranging from implanting tracking chips into children to sending submarines into the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Although these technological advancements are initially created to promote human progress and problem-solving, many spiral out of control, and readers are able to witness how seemingly beneficial innovations can become overpowering and invasive. This is the central theme that “The Circle” explores: privacy, and when and to what extent it is acceptable to invade it. In fact, one of the book’s taglines — coined by Holland — is “Secrets are Lies. Sharing is Caring. Privacy is Theft.”

The potential danger of the work done at the Circle is at times overshadowed by its apparent perfection; the campus is sprawling, beautiful and modern, and all of its employees have free access to cafeterias, gyms, performances and endless social events. It is a veritable utopia. At one point in the book, Mae reflects, “Outside the walls of the Circle, all was noise and struggle, failure and filth. But here, all had been perfected. The best people had made the best systems and the best systems had reaped funds, unlimited funds, that made possible this, the best place to work.”

Although Eggers devotes much of the novel to describing the simple trivialities of Holland’s day-to-day life, this is in fact one of the novel’s greatest assets. Since the reader knows so intimately what is going on during every hour of Holland’s day, it is often difficult to detect her subtle character changes until they loudly manifest, either in dramatic events or plot twists. Furthermore, Eggers’s work provides commentary on the ramifications of omniscience and explores the various effects that it may have on humans by allowing readers to observe Holland’s life at the Circle as omniscient onlookers themselves.

Although its premise is powerful, the writing of “The Circle” could be tighter and stronger; it falls very short of its potential to impact readers. Many of the characters are one-dimensional, and there are both verbose sections that could pack more punch if trimmed down and weak, thinly written passages that could benefit from greater detail. “The Circle” would likely have been a more powerful piece of writing had it undergone another round of thoughtful edits. However, though the prose of “The Circle” leaves much to be desired, the idea behind it has been powerful enough to pull the novel into the spotlight, and even inspired the production and release of a screen adaptation.

The film adaptation of “The Circle,” which was released at the end of April and marketed as a sci-fi drama, suffers from similar problems that the book does. Despite its star-studded cast — featuring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega in lead roles — and $18 million budget, the final product falls frustratingly short of its potential, leaving out many intriguing and arguably essential plot points from the novel. Examples of this include Mae’s sexual relationship with a mysterious character connected to the Circle, and another Circle employee’s involvement in a dangerous project. Although it is understandable that the novel’s storylines had to be chosen selectively to fit into the film’s 110-minute run time, certain subplots that were excluded would have strengthened the message of the film.

Although the film brings the vivid imagery and intense emotion of the novel to life with a rich screenplay co-written by Eggers, the novel is certainly Eggers’s more successful brainchild. Though occasionally underdeveloped, the novel touches on a greater range of topics and provides a higher level of detail, insight and introspection. “The Circle” has its disappointing moments, but it is ultimately set in a brilliant dystopian world that is well worth diving into.

alexandraheadshotAlexandra Brunjes is a sophomore in the College. Summer Reading appears every other Sunday. 

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