Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser (Nan A. Talese; $28.95; 336 pages)
Lady Antonia Fraser has produced a memoir that is a loving and memorable tribute to the late Nobel prize-winning playwright, screenwriter and poet, Harold Pinter. Fraser happened to meet Pinter while he was married to his first wife. They spent many hours talking until Pinter indicated that it would be wise for him to return to his home. This was when Fraser, who was also married, asked him, “Must you go?” Pinter stayed and this, for all practical purposes, was the beginning of the 33-year-period that they spent together – first as an unofficial couple and then as married partners.
The reader never doubts the accuracy of the events recounted in this memoir, as it was based on Fraser’s daily diary entries (most of which were read by Pinter). Fraser admits that married life was not without conflict, although they made it a rule to never go to bed angry… Sometimes this meant going to sleep just before daybreak. And Fraser admits to never quite knowing or understanding the genius that her husband embodied. At one point a Washington Post reporter asked her a somewhat absurd question, “What is Harold Pinter like about the house, all those pauses and enigmatic statements, I’ve always wondered?” Fraser’s response was, “Keep wondering.”
“Living with Harold the writer was a rewarding experience since he behaved exactly like artists behave in books but seldom do in real life.”
Pinter was to find true happiness with Fraser, the love of his life but it may well have affected his creativity. His initial marriage resulted in several successful plays that revolved around, in Pinter’s words, “unhappy frozen married relationships.” As he was to admit to Antonia, “Happiness is not dramatic.” But Pinter was to find a new outlet for his energies and his intellect, and this was in taking positions on the world’s political issues. He was, in a sense, like John Lennon who took strong positions on war and peace even though he knew it alienated many. Lennon was to say that this was just the way he was. Fraser writes of Pinter that, “…he took for granted what we might euphemistically call his outspokenness and could not quite see why other people sometimes objected.”
Pinter was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a time, late in his life, when he was too ill to attend the award ceremony. But he took an ambulance to a television studio in London where he videotaped his acceptance speech. It seemed that the discontented Prodigal Son had finally been called home.
“Harold and I now love each other more than ever, now and forever.”
If the first two-thirds of Must You Go? chronicles the adventurous life of a man of letters, than the last third documents the struggle of a man who fought cancer and survived it in his seventies, only to eventually lose the good fight. This last third is a tale of bravery and self-pride and triumph. Pinter was to leave this mortal coil but only when his body had completely failed him – he never lost his mind nor his heart. Pinter died on Christmas Eve of 2008. His life justified the line in one of his favorite poems by Philip Larkin, “What will survive of us is love.”
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher. Must You Go? was released by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday on November 2, 2010.