A moving testament to one of the literary world's most celebrated marriages: that of the greatest playwright of our age, Harold Pinter, and the beautiful prize-winning biographer Antonia Fraser. In this memoir, Fraser recounts the life she shared with the renowned dramatist. In essence, it is a love story and an insightful account of their years together, beginning with their initial meeting when Fraser was the wife of a member of Parliament and mother of six, and Pinter was married to a distinguished actress. Over 33 years together, they experienced much joy, a shared devotion to their work, crises and laughter, and, in the end, great courage and love as Pinter battled the illness to which he eventually succumbed on Christmas Eve 2008. Fraser's diaries--written by a biographer living with a creative artist and observing the process firsthand--also provide a unique insight into his writing.--From publisher description.
This is the story of a romance and a long relationship that began in scandal: Lady Antonia and Pinter met at a London dinner party in January 1975, at a time when they were both married with children. But "the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know," and in spite of their families and social expectations of the time, they determined to break the bonds of family and societal expectations to create a new lasting marriage of minds.
I got the feeling that these diary entries were jotted down in spare moments, not much reflected upon. She had a busy life - with six maturing children, a demanding husband, loving and active yet elderly parents - and a writing career of her own in which she was nearly always working on a lengthy manuscript. As a result, her diary is not particularly "literary" in itself, nor does Lady Antonia come across as particularly deep or reflective. The real interest lies in what the Pinters were doing at any given time, and who they were meeting.
Beware: Lady Antonia is not averse to name-dropping! But it's true that both she and her husband were both members of what in Britain is known as "the chattering classes," - and they both had links to theatre and film as well. So its not really surprising that they were always meeting Philip Roth for lunch, Salman Rushdie was popping over for a spot of tea, Vaclav Havel was calling for advice from Prague, they were going to cast parties with John Gielgud and discussing film projects with Jeremy Irons, and Cherie Blair wanted to interview them for a BBC documentary.
These three words started their relationship and inspired the title of this book. In Must You Go? we see the relationship span over thirty years and we see them through their separate divorces. Lady Antonia, best known for her Mary, Queen of Scots biography and her Jemima Shore fictional series, was married to Sir Hugh Frasier, an MP in the House of Lords. Pinter was married to actress Vivian Merchant. It was over five years before both divorces were final. Pinter and Frasier had been living together for about three years by then.
The subtitle for this book is My Life with Harold Pinter, so fittingly the diary posts begin with their meeting in 1975 and close when Pinter’s long struggle with cancer ends on Christmas Eve, 2008. Knowing that Frasier is an award winning author, I expected more. It wasn’t until I put the book down for several days and then picked it up again, that I appreciated it for what it is. It’s the bits and snags of happenings that make up our lives. There is a lot of the expected name dropping and the attending of fabulous events that one would expect from people in their circle, but that does not take away from the story of their lives. Frasier relates these people and their activities as you and I would relate going to dinner with friends, because that’s exactly what they are. Their friends just happen to be the well known and the famous in the “glitterati world” they lived in.
Frasier’s artistry with words comes to light with the minimal use of flowery prose. There’s no need to embellish their relationship. It began as the stuff of tabloid front pages, however Frasier always goes with the simple truth. She writes from the heart as well as the soul, keeping in mind that all too often everyone’s life is messy and disarranged. Theirs was out there for public consumption. She and Pinter got past the ugliness and pain.
What’s left are indeed the bits and snags, the things jotted down as a remembrance to place the happenings of a particular day or time. And we’re all the better that she did save her diary and ultimately decided to share the bits of her life with Pinter in a quiet and respectful way.
I enjoyed Frasier’s Must You Go? and do recommend it. If I gave stars, I’d give it 3 ½ out of 5.
Source: This book was provided to me by the publisher at my request and in no way affected by review.
The most affective biography I have read since The Last Enemy by Richard Hilary
Some of the things I found inspiring: Antonia´s father telling her on her 63rd birthday, that at this age Winston Churchill had yet to become the Prime Minister. In our age, that is so focused on youth and young looking people, this is something we should remind ourselves of often. Harold´s committment to the plays and also to his convictions, even when very ill, was extremely touching and inspiring. And how Harold and Antonia, together with their friends and family, took pleasure of literature together- performing plays, reading poems etc.
I wish I had AF´s confidence when she described how somebody met her and HP and continued, "naturally, they were delighed to meet us" - that sentence made me laugh out loud. And a catty comment, there is a small mistake in the book -Nobel day is NOT on the 7th of December:), but on the 10th. But, this aside, this book made me think, laugh, and cry -and plan to read more poetry, as well as biographies. For light reading, I am very happy with this book.
It was while at a social gathering in 1975 that Ms. Fraser walked up to Pinter, before leaving, to say that she liked his play, “The Birthday Party.” The two barely knew each other. He looked back at her with what she calls “amazing, extremely bright black eyes” and said, “Must you go?” He called her his destiny and wrote her love poems, some of them later collected in a volume called “Six Poems for A” (2007). She loved his bristling mind, his “awesome baritone” and the way his “black curly hair and pointed ears” made him look “like a satyr.” They remained happily together (marrying in 1980) for 33 years, through his Nobel Prize in 2005 and until his death from cancer, at 78, in December 2008.
There are many anecdotes that intrigue the reader in this delightful memoir. One of my favorite moments follows:
"Dinner with tom and Miriam Stoppard. The latter tackles Harold about the swearing in No Man's Land: 'This must be something in you, Harold, waiting to get out.' Harold: 'But I don't plan my characters' lives.' Then to Tom: 'Don't you find they take over sometimes?' Tom: 'No.'"
It seems that their life is filled with such moments and, when the literary references wane, there are the political highlights that bring alive the times (a span of three decades) with intrusions of bits about the IRA or left and right-wing political goings-on.
Pinter’s life force — he was mostly anything, it seems, but Pinteresque — comes through clearly here. Ms. Fraser details his love for cricket, tennis and bridge. He threw himself around recklessly on dance floors and swam “with a great splashing like a dog retrieving a ball.” The result is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the life of the epitome of a literary couple.