Later this year, Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle, will be released as a film starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and John Boyega. Given that it’s got Hermione and Finn in it, I’m sure it’ll be a good film, if not a great one. But regardless of the quality of the film version, my hope is that the attention it will undoubtedly receive worldwide will persuade more people to read the book it’s based on because, simply put, it is a worthy successor of George Orwell’s unforgettable 1984.
Now, if you haven’t read 1984, go read it immediately. It’s a riveting and necessary book and, on a personal note, the first book that ever made me think.
Assuming you have read it, you’ll understand when I say that my favorite parts of that novel were when Orwell had his characters explain the rationale behind the totalitarian philosophy informing his dark society. The confrontation between Winston and O’Brien is more exciting than any fistfight because it is a fight between ideas. Winston argues for freedom, O’Brien for slavery. Winston argues for truth, O’Brien denies truth exists. And while Winston argues for humanity, O’Brien sees it as nothing but an enemy waiting to be crushed.
It’s a rough read that perfectly reflects the kind of society Orwell, and his generation, feared would overtake the world. But the fears we have today are vastly different. Whereas Orwell’s Big Brother was an obvious image of evil, we all take it for granted that someone is watching us, monitoring our online activity, hacking our phones. Even those of us who are against such invasions of privacy are more or less resigned enough to accept things as they are (or at least aren’t willing to live off the grid yet).
The erosion of privacy, the atomizing of society by “social” media, the endless distractions that are destroying our ability to focus and causing us to forget how fulfilling and important thinking itself is – these are just some of the concerns Eggers explores in his novel. And explores truly is the word, because just like in 1984, the most exciting parts are the conversations, where characters argue on behalf of different, often polar opposite, worldviews. But this isn’t just a philosophy lecture, any more than 1984 is. Rather, it shows the gradual (d)evolution of Mae, a girl who comes to embody the new kind of digital dictatorships that are in some ways more insidious than the ones Orwell feared because the methods of control aren’t nearly as obvious. And outside of conversations, her inner monologues show her grappling with the same questions that pervade the novel and, frankly, the world today.
The Circle reveals the subtle slippery slope we might very well be on and how slippery that slope can be. It is also full of fascinating predictions that feel less like possibilities and more like inevitabilities. But most importantly, it is an example of a rare kind of book that does something 1984 did for me many years ago: it makes you think.
So go read it. Now.
Fun fact 1: George Orwell was not George Orwell’s name – it was Eric Blair.
Fun fact 2: 1984 was published in 1948. I always think it’s fun when you can place a book in history and, for obvious reasons, this one is pretty easy to remember.