This is another venture between Silver Screen Capture and TheBookFetishBlog. I’m reviewing the book, Stephen is covering the movie, and then we’re talking about them together.

Dave Eggers did something in The Circle that not a lot of authors do for me: he gave me a main character I simultaneously wanted to slap and strangle, while also wanting to know how the plot plays out.

From the Publisher’s Summary:
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

The premise is good- At The Circle, connection and transparency mean everything. Isn’t it selfish to not share wonderful experiences with people who can’t do those things?  If you know you are being watched, would you choose to behave differently? Is it so much to give up a little privacy if we can take the chance of a kidnapping or terror attack to near zero? Wouldn’t it be great if we knew exactly how our politicians conduct their business? No more backroom deals.  Yes, but…  And that’s the crux of The Circle. Where is this line drawn?  What is the point where giving up individuality and privacy is worth it to serve the greater good? When does electronic connection- and its associated validation and judgement- become as important as real life relationship? And what does this mean for our future?

The fact the I’m writing a blog post that I hope gets read, liked, and shared at the same time that I’m talking about the dangers of caring too much about this kind of validation is not lost on me.  What is lost on me is the choices Eggers made in writing this book.  He takes an intriguing idea, but leaves so many plot holes and implausibilities that the potential of the book is lost.  There are a couple of character arcs that lead to a WTF moment when someone’s true identity is revealed and you remember his previous actions. There is a nefarious underbelly to The Circle, and we are given nuggets of warnings about it, but the sense of urgency about reigning it in just isn’t there.  That could be Eggers’ point- that by the time we see the danger, too many things are set in motion to see a way out from it- but if it is, it could have been handled better. The book is worth reading if it makes you think, but its one I would recommend with reservations.


Now here is the Q and A between Stephen Michael Brown and me about the book and film.  Minor spoilers so consider yourself warned.

What was the biggest plot hole for you?

Ashley:Ugh! There are a lot! This is going to be a bit spoilery, but here goes: That Kalden was Ty (a founder of the company) and he randomly chose a newbie to the organization to show “deep secrets” to and weakly recruit Mae to try to take down the Circle- oh, and that he banged her in a company bathroom. Consensual? Yes. Grounds for a massive sexual harassment case? Also Yes.  The movie left out some very graphic scenes that I skimmed over in the  book, but that were important to show Stenton’s real personality. His vision of The Circle is the one we most need to be concerned about, and that is completely left out of the movie.

Stephen: To me, it was a series of unfulfilled plot potholes – from Hanks’ surveillance speeches that seemed oblivious to moral implications, to tours of underground tunnels to nowhere, to a framed love story that I didn’t even know was happening. This director, who incidentally made a very wonderful film called The Spectacular Now, did a very poor job focusing in on what he wanted the viewers to care about.


What did you miss in the film that you hoped was fleshed out in the book?

Stephen: I found Emma Watson’s character to be bland, seemingly defanged from what was presented in the novel. Without sufficient background characterization or motivation – or even evolution to grow or change, there really wasn’t a driving force or momentum here. In fact, I felt the film was lacking both protagonist and antagonist. Dare I say it felt lost a bit in the cloud.


What stood out as the biggest flaw from the book to the movie?

Ashley: Annie’s character was very, very different in the book. A Scottish actress couldn’t tell the story of Book-Annie. By not giving movie-Annie a comparable backstory, movie goers don’t really understand Annie’s downward spiral.  She’s a harbinger in the book- in the movie, she’s just haggard.


What worked well?

Stephen: I liked the logo for The Circle, the depiction of the headquarters campus and the way text messages popped up around the characters. The film brought up some pretty heady concepts to botch them so royally in terms of script and direction. History may look more fondly on the film as its predictions come true. Heck, some of the events straight out of headlines happened a bit just last month. It’s a prescient tale, just told in a fairly predictable and pedestrian style. In this same genre, I recommend Gattaca.

Ashley: It does make you think. We are quick to share big parts of our lives on social media, but that doesn’t mean that we really know each other. And we like streamlining a lot of things- touch ID to log in to applications. Tapping our phone to pay for things in a store. Emoji’s to show if we are happy or sad. Any number of things made easier by technology and connection, and that can be a wonderful thing. But we don’t stop to think on where the sharing, the streamlining, the data collection, should stop. If that part of the story makes us think more about what our future could be, then it is worth reading.