Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Must You Go?"

The noted English historian and mystery novelist Antonia Fraser’s new book, “Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter” (Doubleday, 2010), tells, as the title indicates, of her long love affair with and marriage to the eminent playwright Harold Pinter, who died in 2008. Unlike recent books by Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates about their husbands’ deaths and the aftermath in their own lives, Fraser’s book focuses on the long years of her relationship with Pinter, and describes his illness and death only briefly, although movingly. Theirs seems to have been a great and satisfying love, enhanced by their mutual joy in the intellectual, artistic, writing life. The book emphasizes the positive and mostly skims over the negative; perhaps this is the (stereotypical, I know!) British “chin-up” stance? Or perhaps it is because Fraser knows how fortunate she and Pinter were to have the life and love they had, and prefers to focus on that rather than on bumps in the road, or on its end. The book’s title comes from Pinter’s asking Fraser at a dinner party, “Must you go?”, which became the fateful beginning of their relationship, after which they never seemed to have wavered, despite their need to end two marriages in order to be together. Of course the title also refers to Pinter’s death. Because the book is based on Fraser’s diaries, it is perhaps not quite as satisfying as a more unified narrative; on the other hand, readers benefit from the immediacy of the diary entries, and from the feeling of having a window into these two great writers’ lives as they were lived. The book is full of stories about the couple’s writing, their travels, and their famous friends, yet there is no sense of boastfulness or superiority displayed. Fraser comes across as a thoughtful, down to earth person. Pinter occasionally had a temper, and sometimes became depressed, but overall seemed to have been a brilliant and caring person, dedicated to his art as well as committed to fighting injustice in the world. This is a truly touching love story. The book is enhanced by a generous selection of photographs, many in color.

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