On a recent week-long yoga retreat in Bali, I made it my mission to finish a book or two, as it’s always been my favorite way to really relax (especially when there’s an ice-cold cocktail on hand). One of the three options I had in my bag was a preview copy of Noel Crookes’ first novel, Under the effect of. Described in media releases as “Satan wears purdah For the Digital Age “I was instantly infatuated, having had an obsession with the deliciously doomed Miranda Priestley ever since I first read the 2004 novel nearly 20 years ago. Will this book and its cautionary tale about a crowd-pleaser — and poignant — culture gone horribly wrong in some way captivate me? similar?
Spoiler alert: I did…and then some.
In fact, from the very first chapters in which I was first introduced to struggling writer Harper Crews and her new boss, fast-moving self-help expert and social media darling Charlotte Green, I was hooked. The book’s fast pace made it very difficult to put down. I found myself reading it between yoga sessions, at meals, by the pool, and in bed. Within a couple of days, I had devoured the novel and was debating its premise and taking on bad bosses with anyone who would listen.
And while Lauren Weisberger’s early book-turned-film exposed a clear and blatant abuse of power and influence at the hands of Miranda, under influence Charlotte reveals it in a more subtle and manipulative way, often under the guise of inspiration and pep talk. The modern #Girlboss promotes an inclusive work and family environment, complete with morning office dance parties and daily motivational intentions while claiming long hours and total loyalty. It’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s also a story that resonated well with me (and likely everyone else who experienced the meteoric rise of the hustle-focused #Girlboss era in the early 2010s).
“I’ve come to find, just in my own career and talking to friends and family, that no matter the industry, there are all kinds of toxic work environments, particularly this noise of hard work and hard play that’s drilled into the surface,” author Crooks says in a recent interview. I just feel like it’s not a healthy way to be productive at work or in life. The former, hard work (philosophy), feels like it’s been this driving force for a lot of people for a long time, and this is where Under the effect of Enter.”
Ahead, Crooks gave me the scoop on her highly anticipated novel, which hits shelves today. Read on to hear the author’s thoughts on toxic work environments, girl bosses, and what she learned about her own unhealthy work habits writing her first book.
How much of your inspiration for this book was drawn from real-life experience?
By thinking about the story, I was able to draw inspiration from a range of places, whether it be friends, family, former co-workers, or my own online research. Unfortunately, I feel like we live in (a time) where you can’t often talk to someone and they haven’t had some kind of bad manager experience, or some kind of toxic work environment experience.
Do you find, as the book shows, that many toxic work environments are hidden under the guise of a self-care, community-focused environment?
Yes. I feel that toxic work environments are rarely ones with booths, or a formal dress code. It’s usually, from what I’ve noticed, the fun, exciting, and innovative companies whose catchy values dot their website, Instagrams of smiling co-workers, and “It’s so fun to work here” (public image) that unfortunately are the most (problematic). Companies that are supposed to be mission driven companies are often unfortunately not really as progressive as they make themselves out to be.
Without giving away too much about the story, would you say, you worked for a company very similar to the one in the book, or did you have a similar experience to Harper’s?
I definitely endorse Harper’s story of having a bad boss. I certainly fell victim to the clamor of culture early on in my career. When writing the character of Harper, I thought about the stories I’d hear during happy hour, or the conversations I had with former classmates. I even thought about 2020 and all the articles out there pulling back the curtain on some of these companies – so I did some research on that as well.
Did the writing of this book lead to any personal revelations?
I certainly fell victim to the clamor of culture early on in my career. I’ve always been just someone who wants to do well and even as a kid those were the best moments for me, I feel like it was the times in elementary school when I was the line leader. For me, the fact that I joined the workforce at a time when the girlboss culture was just beginning was the perfect storm for me. In writing this book, I was able to reflect on my time in the bustling culture era. I really subscribed at the time to girlboss ideas. Defining me as an ambitious woman and the wave that hit 2010 with quotes, mugs and all that, made me feel visible at the time.
During my mid to late 20s, I would say, when I had a moment where I thought, “Am I building a life that looks good, or am I building a life that feels good?” I noticed that I was prioritizing work over everything else, like friends, family, health, and mental well-being. I was just focusing on work and the next job title (..), bonus, salary increase, or something. I would like to say in writing this book it took me back to that time when hustle culture was a huge part of my life. Now I would say, when I think of “The Woman Who Has It All,” (the idea) really makes me think about the balance of the words. When I think of a woman who has it all, she’s balanced, hard-working, motivated, and passionate about how she contributes to the world, but also makes time to go to an exercise class, happy hour with friends, put her phone away at dinner, watch a Bravo party—all of those things. Writing this novel helped me think through all of those ideas.
There are really a lot of book comparisons out there Satan wears purdah. What is. Your thoughts on the similarities between Charlotte Green in your novel and Miranda Priestly?
crazy to think about it (Satan wears purdah) in 2004. It’s been nearly two decades and the story of toxic work environments was relevant then, just as it is today. It just goes to show you the small progress that has been made on it.
When considering Miranda vs. Charlotte, I think the latter has a way of connecting things in a pretty little bow. I would say the message is probably similar to some of the things Miranda said, but the delivery is the key here which I think makes them very different. More nuanced on the subject, Miranda was a little more transactional in saying, “That’s what I want at this time, etc.” Where Charlotte’s demands are a little more woven into an ambitious or inspirational quote, or a little more manipulative. She even took advantage of social media (to get what she wanted), which Miranda didn’t.
There is some belief that the girl was replaced by this self-care-focused time. In your opinion, do you think the former is still alive and well, just in a different guise, or do you think we are really on a more positive path?
With girlboss (trope) it obviously started as a compliment, and has now really moved on to criticism. I feel like the hustle culture I think is still rampant in today’s society, and I think social media definitely amplifies that. I’d like to think that even if companies continue to promote toxic work environments, people are much more aware, more skeptical about doing interviews, and trying to do more research on which companies might end up selling this dream career. I think people are now able to feel more willing to step back and ask if something seems too good to be true.