Whoever reviewed this for The Guardian said it was “prescient, important and very funny.” Two out of three ain’t bad, I suppose; there are precious few laughs to be had in this Black Mirror-esque tale of misery.
The Circle is effectively Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter all rolled into one. A company with limitless resources, its neverending expansion of programmes has one aim: transparency. The mantra is that everyone has the right to know everything and that, when they do, the world will achieve peace and freedom.
It welcomes Mae Holland as a new recruit, hired at the instigation of her friend Annie who has pulled a few strings from her position way up in the hierarchy.
And hierarchy is what it’s all about. After learning from some deep discussions with her immediate superiors (you know the conversations if you’ve every worked in a corporate setting), Mae begins to work her way upwards, literally improving her PartiRank score.
As she does, she becomes less Mae Holland and more part of the machine and an agent of transparency. This results in some very uncomfortable encounters with her parents and ex-boyfriend which eventually lead to tragedy.
The book is uncomfortable reading throughout. The subject matter doesn’t help, Like Black Mirror, it’s far too close to reality to be carefree fantasy. Also like Black Mirror, its creator feels the need for moments of completely irrelevant sex.
But it’s also uncomfortable reading because it isn’t a very carefully constructed story. There are parts which seem pointless and which pad the book out in ways which, in retrospect, you wonder about. Mae meets a couple on a raft while out kayaking. The incident seems important… but it isn’t. Mae gets involved in potential revenge porn. The incident seems important… but it isn’t. Etc, etc.
Worst of all because it contributes to a pivotal moment in the book, is a complete disdain for reality when creatures supposedly brought back from the bottom of the Mariana Trench are bodily lowered into an aquarium by a lab tech. For those not familiar with the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth, the pressure is over 1,000 times normal atmospheric pressure. Attempting to recreate this environment in an aquarium open to the air into which you can lower things would be physically impossible no matter how many resources you throw at it.
It’s hardly surprising that any mention of this pivotal moment is completely omitted from the film which decides that Eggers’ ending is so bad, that they have to come up with one slightly less contrived to cover it up.
So, in the end, while this was mildly interesting, Eggers has taken a great premise and executed it clumsily. Nowhere near as “funny” as Hologram for the King.