Must You Go?

In January, 1975, Harold Pinter was 44, unhappily married to actress Vivien Merchant, with one teenaged son. At 42, Lady Antonia Fraser, the bestselling author of Mary Queen of Scots, was a noted beauty, the Catholic wife of Hugh Fraser, a Conservative MP, and the mother of six children. When Fraser went to say goodbye to Pinter at the opening night celebration for his play The Birthday Party, he responded, "Must you go?" Mesmerized with each other, their night continued "with extraordinary recklessness" until dawn.

 

Their relationship was scandalous, "intensely romantic"—and long-lasting. They quickly moved in together, marrying five years later after Pinter's wife finally granted him a divorce.

 

Must You Go? is Fraser's account of their 33-year relationship, stitched together largely from excerpts from her diaries shortly after Pinter's death from liver cancer in December, 2008. It joins such literary spousal tributes as John Bayley's Elegy for Iris, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and Calvin Trillin's About Alice.

 

In addition to a passionate love story, Must You Go? is a record of Pinter's creative process—"a consequence of a biographer living with a creative artist and observing what went on first hand." Pinter, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, wrote his plays in bursts of inspiration. Fraser's book reminds us that he was also an accomplished director, actor, and screenwriter—an activity he regarded as an important art in itself, "not just a 'my-house-needs-painting' exercise."

 

With the graciousness that no doubt earned her the Sunday Independent headline, "He's grumpy, she smoothes things over," Fraser captures Pinter's sometimes "savage melancholy," his often inflammatory outspokenness, and their remarkably productive lives, filled with work, political activism, family, and many famous acquaintances.

 

In their "last real conversation," Pinter asked Fraser, "'What are your plans,' pause, 'generally?'" She mentioned the support of family and friends. What she didn't mention was the solace of working on this moving, absorbing memoir.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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