The Circle

41FvkCfd7iLHaving not read an Eggers’ book in years, suddenly a couple in the span of a few months. Unfortunately i have many of the same comments about this one as the last.

Lets get this out at the start – this is a book about Google and the people that work there. There is just too much in the way of coincidence for things to be otherwise.

“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

“Your digital identity will live forever… because there’s no delete button.”

—Eric Schmidt

versus

“We don’t delete”

—Eamon Bailey

It feels like Eggers has spent enough time with insiders there to nail some of the (supposed…) atmosphere. One of the things that every one of my friends that has noted during the first couple of months that they are at the Googleplex is ‘cult-like’ atmosphere and behaviour. (Perhaps more interestingly they tend to stop talking about it after a few months… assimilation?) Which isn’t to say that he nails the language and atmosphere of the valley, or even the industry. There are places where it’s just jarringly wrong.

The plot revolves around the creation of a techno-dystopia (or utopian if you’re one of the data-randians / social-libertarians… ‘social’ in modern ‘social networking’ usage, unfortunately) and tries very hard to put a modern spin on 1984 classic, “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”:

SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT

And at the same time update Huxley’s willing compliance and methods of technological control. These, despite not being particularly original, are the best thought out part of the book.

Where it stumbles is that, just like The Hologram in the Desert, the pudding is over egged. The effect would be better if he’d not felt the need to stray quite so far from reasonably behaviour to make the point. The allegorical  passages (the shark, for example) are blunt to the point of making you cringe at the directness. Some of it is so over the top (the chase scene with Mercer) that it loses all impact, and left me wondering if he wouldn’t be better off script writing for a hollywood blockbuster.

Anyway, you should read this, as, just like 1984 and Brave New World, it’ll become a handbook against which future totalitarian progress is measured. Also, it’ll take the shock out of hearing similar ideas when they are inevitably floated over the next couple of years… oh, and they will be.

Edit: it occurs to me that the lack of visceral impact of the “SECRETS ARE LIES” triple reflects the banality of our times. It was very hard not be hyperbolic saying that…

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Autobiography

MorrisseyNot sure what i expected… Morrissey, a modern Wilde, is obviously going to be eloquent, difficult, guarded, and oblique.

All the way from childhood to his forties(?), the strongest impression is one of victimhood. There doesn’t seem to be a single situation / disagreement in which our narrator feels the need to accept any influence or responsibility for the torrent of slings and arrows flung around him. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t accept that he is a difficult person, so presumably the expectation would be that acceptance can only happen on his terms. Given all the success, especially later in his career, it’s hard to take the lack of self-awareness.

That said, the episode with Joyce (retrospectively) claiming 25% of the Smiths earnings would probably be enough to install a sense of paranoia in even the most stoic. Unless there is more to the story than is told here, and i doubt there is, it really was a travesty of a trial, a case where it’s hard not to see an agenda behind the scenes.

The writing in the early sections is really beautiful, feeling born out of deeply felt emotions and memories. Towards the end, where life become more of a catalog of orgiastic (the only context in which it seems possible to talk in such of terms with Morrissey) tour dates, and travel experience, the shine is gone… but so too is the tortured aspect of the narration. It’s a period in which he’s succeeding on his own terms and what were major torments become minor quibbles, that can simply be accepted.

I don’t know if it’s an enjoyable read, but it’s obviously necessary if the music has any kind of impact on you over the years.