Despite me taking a little mini break when baby arrived, with a little help from a good friend the Manchester Book Club is, thankfully, still going strong. 6 years this spring!!
Although it may have something to do with my waning concentration span, last years’ books felt like a bit of a mediocre bunch. Even Elena Ferrante’s much lauded My Brilliant Friend – that I was so, so, excited to read – was met with sighs and eye rolls, including by yours truly. Though I did finally read A Clockwork Orange….one for the bucket list I suppose.
I always see our first book of the year as perhaps, in some fatalistic way, setting the tone for the next 12 months. Dave Eggers’ The Circle, is, by 2018 standards, hardly going to blow anyone’s mind with it’s tale of a Google-style multinational/all-powerful corporation that has the monopoly over most of the world’s digital information and major technological advances. However, although the premise might sound fairly unoriginal, it’s really important to think about how much our digital world has actually changed in the 5 years since this book was published and therefore how particularly relevant this story is to us today.
The novel follows our marginally dull, girl-next-door-type Mae Holland as she bagsies a job at the most sought after company in the world; the Circle. All is innocent enough at first, as she starts in a fairly lowly customer service role, albeit working in lovely surroundings with all the bells and whistles of the latest technology. Things however, soon turn sour, as her work colleagues’ California smiles start to look more and more deranged, the founders’ ethos creepier and creepier and Mae’s position more precarious as she is sucked into a world where privacy of any kind, even in your own home, is seen as a betrayal against those around you. Mae is utterly brainwashed, the Circle’s grip on society becomes greater and oh my god have I really reactivated my own social media accounts?! Eek!!
Although I know that this already won’t be a favourite of mine this year, The Circle made for a perfect book club book. Eggers shines a light on many pertinent issues; the positive and negatives sides to current technological advances being one of them. However, the spotlight is mainly focused on personal privacy and the question of how much individuals should be sharing with those around them. In a society where many people voluntarily offer up their homes/lifestyle/partners/children/jobs to scrutiny (see Instagram. I love you Instagram but you scare me sometimes), in Mae’s world this scrutiny becomes a requirement; the ability to go ‘off grid’ impossible. And the scariest thing of all? Hardly anyone questions laying themselves bare for the cameras in the grand quest for shared information, knowledge and transparency. And for those who do? Well, I won’t spoil the story for you 🙂
So far so excellent book club book. Eggers’ novel is gripping, an easy read and incredibly prescient looking at it from the other side of the frenzied whirl of social media we live in today. The major gripe here would be that sadly, in his eagerness to make all of these very valid points, plausible plotlines and proper characterisation occasionally fly out of the window, leading to raised eyebrows here and there. Mae all too readily agrees to wear a camera around her neck and chart her every move, sacrificing her personal life in the quest for transparency. Does this girl have no opinion? It also seemed slightly lazy to bung one of Mae’s college friends (and therefore surely equally young/inexperienced?) smack bang at the top of the Circle, for all of our convenient plotline needs. Perhaps I should have bothered applying for that Google CEO job when I left university after all….
Not one to scour your local bookshop for but if you see this in the library it is a quick and chilling read. Good entertainment all around.