The Circle by Dave Eggers

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Secrets are lies and privacy is theft in the world of The Circle, the all-consuming company at the centre of Dave Eggers' entertaining, if unsettling new satire on technology and the surveillance state.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241146484

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Following a string of recent scandals, the government this month announced that secret cameras could be introduced into care homes in the hope of improving patient care. The theory being that constantly recording staff would prevent any inappropriate behaviour from those in positions of authority. Could such surveillance possibly work? And if it did would any potential rewards be outweighed by the threat to the privacy of both the patients and the wholly innocent staff who become caught up in the snooping? It's this question of surveillance over privacy that is central to 'The Circle', the new novel by Dave Eggers.

Set sometime in the near future, 'The Circle' is an all-encompassing technology company that has incorporated Facebook, Google, Twitter and just about every other social media or tech firm of any significance. Thanks to the help of an old college roommate, twenty-something Mae Holland gets what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime and a job at The Circle.

On the surface at least, the California campus appears to be the perfect place to work with funky dining rooms, endless parties (complete with free dorm rooms to sleep off any excess), gyms and training facilities, free concerts and shows from the world's best musicians and performers as well as a comprehensive healthcare programme. Maintaining the too cool for school reputation, each portion of the campus is named after a historical era with Mae ending up in the Crystal Maze sounding Old West zone.

The Circle gained its dominant position by merging together its users' email, social media and banking accounts into a single, perfectly efficient system. Passion, Participation and Transparency become the watchword for The Circle, even more so with the introduction of a new recording system that can provide perfect quality images from a tiny, easily hidden camera. If all the doors are open, physically and metaphorically, there's only the one truth. It's that justification that allows the cameras to be used used to challenge brutal dictatorships, the integrity of politicians and of course the behaviour of the workers themselves.

Civility ensues, shady back-room political deals become a thing of the past and the Internet becomes a place of civility rather than one trolling, bitching and backbiting. It all seems too good to be true and of course, it all means more profit for The Circle.

The only opposition to the cult-like Circle comes in the form of Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer who sees the dangers of such an all-encompassing entity. Your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication he says but does anyone want to listen and stop the ever-increasing growth of The Circle?

Eggers' new novel could hardly have been better timed given the recent scandals involving the National Security Agency and GCHQ snooping both on their international rivals and on their own citizens. Just how much privacy should an individual citizen expect? Either from the government or in the case of The Circle, a private company?

As an all too believable satire on technology and surveillance, 'The Circle' works very well. The cult-like environment of the company is convincingly portrayed as is Mae's ascent up the corporate ladder until she becomes a public figure in her own right. Rather like 'Zeitoun', Eggers' earlier non-fiction account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 'The Circle' is a highly entertaining and unsettling, if non too subtle, look at a serious contemporary issue. And if the world does become a place where secrets are lies, privacy is theft and all that happens will be known then we should all be afraid.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Zeitoun - also by Dave Eggers. We can also recommend The Underwriting by Michelle Miller.

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