Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, by Antonia Fraser

This surprisingly enjoyable memoir tells of Fraser's 33-year relationship with the playwright. She calls it a love story and, indeed, it is. Her first sighting of him is across a crowded room, though “it was lunchtime, not some enchanted evening, and we did not speak.” The enchantment comes later, when they do finally meet at a dinner party celebrating the first night of a play directed by her brother-in-law. She says they were “reckless” that night: both were married with children, he one and she six. Yet, as she relates, their connection stayed strong through the years until his death in 2008.

Although aware of the possibility that this could turn into a sob-fest or a soppy romance, I trusted my judgment of Fraser's earlier books, both her histories and her mysteries featuring Jemima Shore. She didn't let me down. Her amused and assured voice carries us through the years, describing the people and places they encounter, the causes they champion, and, of course, the books and plays they write. Made up of brief diary entries introduced by even briefer narratives, the book reads quickly and—even with all the bits and pieces—smoothly.

When I was 18 and wondering if there could be such a thing as a happy marriage, I read Pearl Buck's Portrait of a Marriage. The story of a painter and his sturdy, unbeautiful but restful wife stayed with me. Already an aspiring writer and knowing that I would always need my alone-time, I wondered what kind of relationship would work for me. At the time, the models available to me were the 1950s traditional wife who devotes her life to her husband's work and the emerging Second-Wave Women's Movement with its unlikely promise of mutual careers—even then, however, I questioned the eventually intractable problem of the Second Shift.

There was also what I could find in books, though so far none had satisfied me. I shivered at Faulkner's Wild Palms where when the two meet, she simply says, “‘Yes'” but then of course both are harshly punished for their temerity in going off together. I read novels of infidelity and divorce, of abuse and control.

I wish I had read this book back then. I hadn't yet discovered the joy of real lives, the histories and biographies and autobiographies that, although certainly shaped into narratives and colored by what is omitted, provide other possibilities. Buck's couple became yet another example of a woman devoting her life to her husband and his art. In Fraser's memoir, I found the dream come true of two artists devoted to each other. I'm sure there must have been rocky bits, beyond what she relates, but obviously their connection remained strong.

There is much here to like: the inside look at the theatre scene, the famous and not-so-famous people they knew, the different perspective on familiar events. I was particularly delighted by the inclusion of a few of Pinter's poems. I hadn't realised he wrote poetry, too, though I should have. They are strong and tender and add a bit of his voice to this lovely book. I appreciate Fraser's courage in sharing this so-personal story with us; it is one I will treasure.

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