I just finished this book, it's outstanding. It's set in the near future, and is about the Circle, the 'biggest Internet company in the world', a sprawling conglomerate that's taken over the functions of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. The timespan of the book is about the company's top people trying to 'close the circle', to bring every person in the US into the Circle and then to execute all government functions online through Circle applications. The first-level storyline is about that, about the main protagonist's role in closing the Circle. Mae is a young woman who buys into the utopian preaching of one of the company's top men (the 'Three Wise Men'), about the desirability and inevitability of full transparency in all aspects of life, and then helps to close the circle by 'going clear', recording and broadcasting every moment of her life and so alienating her parents and ensuring that her every conversation is superficial and affected.
It's a novel of ideas, in which the most important theme is, naturally, the one of the opposition between transparency and privacy. Eamon Bailey, the one of the top execs who convinces Mae (and most of the other enthusiastic Circlers) is convinced that individuals whose every action is visible to the world are better, more honest, more polite and more ethical than people who have things to hide, and that's why he pushes for this total transparency. The counterpoint is provided by Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer, who wants nothing to do with the Circle and its potential for ubiquity and control, and by the mysterious Kalden. It's also about the artificialness of online connections, and about how people who know they are visible in this way carefully craft their images.
It's a political book, too, with something to say about contemporary questions like net neutrality, Google's efforts to eliminate online anonymity, people's eagerness to publish their lives online, and corporate control over government. Tom Stenton, another of the Three Wise Men, is a rapacious control freak who puts Bailey forward as the Circle's evangelist, and uses the appeal of his ideas about transparency to seize control of government and the economy. There's a RI-ish storyline that appealed to me about how Stenton uses the Circle's control of the Internet to frame his political adversaries in child-porn stings.
The fact that it's a novel of ideas means that the characters are often unrealistic - they don't speak like people but rather like participants in a debate, which is what they are of course. It reminded me of Brave New World
, with that same sort of semi-stilted dialogue that serves as exposition, and some heavy-handed treatment of themes (especially an overdone shark metaphor in the final 100 pages). But that's what it was written to be, and it's a book that I'll remember for some time. I'm not a big Dave Eggers fan - I couldn't finish A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
because I thought it was pretentious and uninteresting - but The Circle
is a terrific book. I'm recommending it to all my friends and I recommend it to you.