Martin’s long digression into secondary material is even more frustrating when her primary sources are so interesting: her interviews with the women who cheat are vivid and humane, and a better version of this book would have made those the spine, and subtly dispersed the supporting science... Martin fundamentally misses how flexible patriarchy can be... The question of what women “really” are is worth asking for its own sake, but only the naive can expect the truth to set us free without an understanding of power.
Untrue contains plenty to titillate rich Upper East Siders but has surprisingly little to say about toxic post-MeToo sexual politics. And I fear that for many women, this message of erotic empowerment will become another stick with which to beat ourselves. As well as having the immaculate home of Marie Kondo, the entrepreneurial flair of Sheryl Sandberg, the sass of Beyoncé and the social conscience of Angelina Jolie, we’re supposed to be putting it about like a bonobo on heat? Sounds awfully tiring.
If some of this sounds a bit dry, it isn’t. Martin is a lively, witty and engaging writer. While some of her interviewees are fluent in cultural studies, she manages to translate their thoughts into something that sounds like English, an English that’s punchy and clear. She is a natural storyteller. She moves seamlessly between suburban housewives, “rock star” academics, macaque monkeys and indigenous tribes. Her narrative is studded with surprises and even some cliffhangers. “It was not the rise of the nation state or even organised religion,” she says at the end of one chapter, that caused the “overarching cultural shift” from “female independence” to “subservience and dependence”. It was, she says, and it lands like a bombshell, “agriculture”.