Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter was born on this day in 1930. For a Nobel laureate, a Companion of Honour (he turned down the knighthood), and a recipient of Europe's top theater awards (the Shakespeare, the Olivier, the Pirandello, the Moliere ...), Pinter had a rough start. The Birthday Party, his first professional production in 1957, got not just bad but mocking reviews and closed after a week. When the unsuspecting Pinter arrived late for the Thursday performance, he tried to rush past the usherette to a seat:

"Where are you going?" she said. "To the dress circle," I said. "I'm the author." Her eyes, as I recall, misted over. "Oh, are you?" she said. "Oh, you poor chap. Listen, the dress circle's closed, but why don't you go in, go in and sit down, darling, if you like, go on." I went into the empty dress circle and looked down into the stalls. Six people were watching the performance....

The above is from Michael Billington's authorized 1996 biography, which portrays Pinter as an individualist from an early age, one not likely to quit or be swayed by criticism. Billington also makes much of Pinter's experiences as a child-evacuee during WWII, as if his uprooting — “There was,” says Pinter of these years, “no fixed sense of being ... of being ... at all” — gave him a taste for the adrift, menacing, semi-reality that he would put in his plays. The following is from The Homecoming, the play that made Pinter and the "Pinteresque" famous; at this moment in Act One, Lenny attempts to clear his sister-in-law's glass and the bottom falls out of the family reunion:

LENNY. You've consumed quite enough, in my opinion.
RUTH. No, I haven't.
LENNY. Quite sufficient, in my own opinion.
RUTH. Not in mine, Leonard.

Pause.

LENNY. ... Just give me the glass.
RUTH. No.

Pause.

LENNY. I'll take it, then.
RUTH. If you take the glass ... I'll take you.

Pause.

LENNY. How about me taking the glass without you taking me?
RUTH. Why don't I just take you?

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.