MUST YOU GO? My Life With Harold Pinter
By Antonia Fraser
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Lady Antonia Fraser, from outward appearances, seemed to have a lovely life. An 18-year-marriage to a Conservative MP, six children, author of highly respected historical biographies and a wide circle of friends. While saying goodbyes at her sister's dinner party, playwright Harold Pinter asked her, "Must you go?" And both of their lives changed.
That was in January 1975. By February, they were desperately in love, both acknowledging their marriages were not fulfilling. By the spring, both of their spouses knew, and many of their friends. By summer, they were living together. And stayed together they did until Pinter's death on Christmas Eve 2008.
Fraser does not pretend that her memoir, Must You Go?, is a comprehensive portrait of their lives from that day in 1975 until his death. The book is a compilation of entries from her diary, a few contemporary recollections and some thoughts from other sources. At first impression, the account seems rather bloodless and passionless. This was quite surprising since the bulk of the book is from the author's private diary. But if the excerpts are just as they were written, Fraser displays an ability to aim for accuracy and objectivity about her own love life and family, including during times of great emotional upheaval.
But as the days fly by, the press begins to ignore them and life settles into a steady rhythm of writing, research, public appearances, rehearsals, political stances and, always, family, it is the strength of their characters, principles and enduring love for each other, kin and friends reveals itself. And it is in the strength of a merged life well-lived, of caring about people and ideas, about loving poetry and literature, that the beauty of Fraser's book is seen.
Reading Must You Go? also shows what a sweet thing the outwardly fierce Pinter was, whether it was writing love poetry to Fraser, reveling in the role of Grandpa to the children of Fraser's children or not disappointing others while he was in great pain during his length illness.
One great benefit of reading Must You Go? may be the desire to read more poetry, spend time with Pinter's plays, go back to finding out more about the Velvet Revolution. And to quietly admire how, sometimes, it doesn't take fireworks on the page to bring to life the qualities of good people.