Mae Holland escapes her dreary office job through the help of a good word from her best friend, and ends up working at The Circle, THE tech company du jour. The Circle runs everything, keeping all your accounts and data in one, easily accessible place. The brightest minds of their generation are working there, coming up with new ways to improve the world. Mae starts there in Customer Experience, answering questions and getting ratings for her performance. Mae is good at her job, but struggles with the new culture and its expectations. Trying to right perceived wrongs, she takes on more and more duties, eventually having her every move recorded, the eyes of the world on her. Is having access to everything you want ever a good thing? And will Mae ever extricate herself from this cult-like place?
The quotes on this book range from calling it a satire, a thriller, and very funny. I think that kind of sums up what I struggled with. I didn’t get what it was trying to be. A horrifying glimpse into our possible future, sure. It edges towards a thriller a few times but never really hits it, and there are funny moments but a lot of it is excruciating. And then there are the dull, repetitive bits. Which are there on purpose, I guess, but reading a litany of interminable exchanges between Mae and her customers got boring fast, even if it did sum up how insane her world was.
And everyone is awful, even Mae. There’s really no one to root for. I have some sympathy for her but overall don’t understand her actions. She has no arc. She’s a damp squib at the beginning and a damp squib at the end. Her actions aren’t shocking. The, I suppose, ‘surprise’ choice she makes at the end isn’t surprising at all. Nothing she’s done throughout would make me think she’d go any other way. And she has absolutely no backbone. I understand she desperately wants to keep her job but even when there are misunderstandings about her performance she just slinks in her seat and apologises, never saying why they have it wrong or how ridiculous some of the reactions are to her – fairly understandable for a newbie worker – actions.
Also, she’s been there all of three minutes and had ‘relationships’ with two of her coworkers. One of whom she doesn’t know the name of or if he actually even works there. Se becomes fixated on these men so quickly and it’s just boring. Oh he career is sorted so I guess she’ll just immediately cross the next thing off her list. She doesn’t seem to have any agency, and when she does it’s just to make stupid decisions. And, SPOILERS, Ty being Kalden is nonsensical. People don’t recognise him wandering about because he’s not wearing his usual hoodies and he’s got greyer hair? Is he Clark Kent? And why does he need Mae? Because she’s got a huge following? But he’s one of the creators of The Circle. Anything he said would carry weight. Feels more like he wants her take the inevitable pushback and keep himself with plausible deniability. Why take that offer when he’s not willing to risk everything himself?
I will say Eggers has done an excellent job creating a nightmarish company. A totally believable one, that’s all about the ‘culture’ and everyone fitting in but never sees anyone as an individual and only focuses on what they can do for the company (while pretending they care very much for their employees’ wellbeing). I’ve worked for places like that. Not on this level of course, but so much of The Circle was familiar. I just wish it had done more with that, and decided what it wanted to be.