Lady Antonia Fraser has written an interesting account of her life with playwright Harold Pinter. They met, while married to other people, in their mid-40's and fell head-over-heels in love. After leaving her husband - Hugh Fraser, with whom she had six children - Antonia lived with Pinter while they waited for their respective divorces to become final. They married a few years later. All in all, they were partners for 33 years until Pinter's death in 2008.
Fraser was a famous author of historical biographies and novels when she met Pinter. She kept a diary - referred to in her memoir - and supplemented the entries with updated notes. As with any autobiography/memoir, the reader can only suppose the author is being truthful in her writing. Fraser writes about working, traveling, keeping a home, and socialising with Pinter. During their time together, Pinter wrote about 10 plays, and he also acted in movies. Theirs was a full-throttled pace - and Fraser is not shy about naming names of the famous people with whom they associated. Pinter and Fraser were active in liberal politics and liberal social issues, both in the UK and outside it. Traveling to Mexico, Central America, Eastern Europe, and Israel, they participated in peace rallies and other social protests.
I enjoyed the book but I'm not sure in the end if it wasn't a recitation of places, events, and people. I "know" because I was told how much Fraser and Pinter adored each other and made a wonderful life together, but the knowledge comes from facts and not feelings as expressed by Fraser.
on 19 February 2010
I enjoyed this glimpse of Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser's life together. It was at heart, a simple love story, told graciously and openly, yet discreetly and with dignity. While their story was intriguing in itself, as interesting was the life they led, the friends they had and the views they held. What was missing for me, was a little more about the impact of their love story on the people around them. How did Antonia's children take the breakup of her first marriage? What about the practicalities of access to the children after the break-up? Yet, the book doesn't claim to be an autobiography, so I guess there was a logic to these omissions. But, yes, I'm glad I read it and I enjoyed it.
on 20 May 2015
I must assume Lady Antonia Fraser needs no introduction. This book is mostly constructed from the author's contemporary diaries, edited and commentated upon where appropriate. Although with hindsight, as a method it is not the less successful for conveying the scale of her passion and joy in the company of Harold Pinter, a passion and joy which was clearly reciprocated. That by this love she felt justified in leaving her marriage to Hugh Fraser MP, by whom she had six children, is testament indeed to the depth and intensity of feeling they had for each other. And choosing to do this in Antonia's case in spite of converting to Catholicism like her father Lord Longford ! Eventually after many years together their respective spouses died and they were able to celebrate a marriage.
There is a lot of travelling. A great deal of company, mainly the bohemian elite which included many of the movers and shakers in thespian and cinematic circles. And a great deal of eating in mainly illustrious London establishments ! But these are the highlights of two lives that knew all about hard graft.
The story ends with a poignant crescendo of dramatic climaxes as Pinter is showered with honours, even while he is fighting cancer over the last seven years of his life. Most notable was the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was also made a CBE and a Companion of Honour to Her Majesty the Queen. This is Antonia's story and we learn how she coped realistically and responsably with what she termed "The Great Fear" that invaded her life. It is a heart-breaking tale.
on 17 February 2010
I couldn't disagree more with the two reviews I have just seen on Amazon; "Must You Go?" tells us the story of two people and their journey of falling in love, throughout a long and very happy marriage with a heart-wrenching ending when Harold Pinter dies. It shows us a softer side to Harold Pinter that many or most people would never have known existed, as an extremely loving husband and grandfather and friend.
Of course, as both Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser have enjoyed successful careers they mixed with other high profile people who are then mentioned in the book - I don't think anyone would find a meeting between Joe Bloggs and his mate in Pizza Hut that fascinating - but perhaps the other reviewers imaginations cannot run to anything other than something close to their own lives. Antonia Fraser's book allows us to dip into a world that most people will not experience for themselves, which for me is what reading is all about.
I found this book took me to a wonderful world rich in culture, literature, fame and above all told me that whatever the situation you can find your soul mate in the most unexpected places and perhaps in the most unexpected person at any time in your life.
I would (and have) highly recommend this book.
on 1 October 2011
Fragments of Antonio Fraser's diary related to her marriage with Harold Pinter. A true testimony of their love with loads of interesting anecdotes about their social life as a couple (friends, acquaintances, events, etc.). Although the book touches on a number of political and religious themes, none of these is further analyzed or developed, which make it a nice 'light' read.
At the same time this is also my only issue with the book, that it remains just that: a collection of anecdotes. Perhaps in retrospect it would have made more sense if Antonia Fraser had taken one or more personal themes (e.g. the fact that both of them left their partners with whom they had children in order to start their relationship) and/or 'professional themes' (such as Harold Pinter's left wing stance on politics or Antonia Fraser's attitude versus the Roman Catholic church) and developed them a bit deeper, say in 2-4 pages. This would be very valuable since the diary fragments refer a number of times to these themes.
Since their work (naturally) plays a central role in this book, I guess the book will be primarily interesting for people who either like the work of Antonia Fraser, the work of Harold Pinter or both.
on 22 February 2011
Because Private Eye introduced me to Antonia Fraser in the guise of Lady Magnesia Freelove in the early 70s, I was prepared to laughingly pour scorn on both the concept of making public a private life , in which the wife features a lot and also upon the end product. Usually, the only revelations of this type I fully enjoy are the ones that manage to be successfully funny throughout, or those diaries and memoirs that are works of art in themselves and help the reader understand something important about an era or a life. Must You Go does not really achieve either of these things. However...
I finally bought the book,at a lower price after it had been out for several months. I had heard and read some of the PR puffery, pre publication, and thought this is going to be so self congratulatory, indulgent and gossipy, which it is in some ways. But it is also hugely revealing about Pinter. It is true, there are a number of sections in the book which lend themselves to parody of the Private Eye type - champagne socialist sections, vignettes of the Campden Hill lifestyle, the annual travels to Barbados, the exclusive poetry readings at home, dinners at the Ivy and other eateries of the literati, and no mention of the home help or the ironing, but...
Ultimately, it is a book about a genuine and long-lasting love between two comfortably situated people over a period of 33 years. This strong-willed woman submitted to Pinter and he, in turn although probably less often,submitted to her. She gave him everything he needed, and he needed a lot. Insecure in many ways (as she is about her writing) he had become used to disappointment early. (The initial failure of the Birthday Party for example and, in his first marriage). He had at least two long and passionate love affairs while married to the actress Vivien Merchant. But, by the time he met Antonia Fraser when he was 44 and she 42, he had bathed in glorious accolades for almost two decades. He was a literary giant.
The body of work that made Pinter one of the greats of post-war playwriting was largely behind him when he met Antonia Fraser. She admits they were from completely different backgrounds. He a Jewish atheist with East End roots, she a Catholic patrician with an eccentric, fairly penniless, difficult but socially-conscious Earl for a father. One feels she gained most strength of character from her strong, devoted and balanced mother.
Pinter worries about money a lot but buys expensive Italian suits. Antonia earns a living by writing historical biography about famous Kings and Queens. She negotiates the possession of an up market address in London with her former, Scottish estate owning husband, Hugh Fraser, when they divorce. (There was never any "togetherness" there, as she puts it.) Her religion and her parents make leaving Hugh for Harold a testing time. But this is the 70s. It is telling however, that even after 25 years of marriage, Antonia does not know how much money Pinter has. Almost a throwback to Edwardian times. Did he know how much money she had?
A revealing portrait of Pinter the writer and Pinter the man builds,layer on layer, through the episodic diary form. There is the poetry- and the verse. (Least said, apart from one poem on Death which is very good). There is the expansion of his political causes and activity which, rooted in protest against Chile and Nicaragua, expands to the Eastern Bloc and in particular to Czechoslovakia, and later to Kosovo and the Iraq War. Antonia follows, without guile and moves from a liberal conservative position to becoming an independent minded activist for artistic causes. She votes Labour in 1992 and 1997. Her new found politics don't come naturally. (She seems to have little understanding of deprivation and social injustice and is not a political animal like her husband.)
Pinter spends time on poetry verse and screenplays in his more mature years. He also finds joy in performance (readings, acting) and people find joy in his performances. He has a marvellous voice. But his greatest joy is in Antonia, and their enviable warm family life, the six well-married children (all from her marriage to Hugh Fraser) the 18 grandchildren. (Pinter was an only child and he is, early on, it seems unwillingly, estranged from his own son by Vivien Merchant),
A man, lustful by all accounts in his early and middle years, with a powerful personality and passionate nature, gradually diminishes physically when he gets cancer of the oesophagus. In 2005, to their shock and delight he is given the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is too ill to go to Stockholm so writes a speech and records it for Television. It is a wonderful, powerful speech, just held back from being a rant, given at the right time weaving in lucid, spellbinding commentary on Art with a steely sharp and accusatory treatise on the consequences of the Iraq War and Blair's betrayal. The shame is, More 4 is the only channel to carry it.
Pinter's physical descent takes six years and is tragic, poignant, horrific, yet marked by courage and deepest tenderness on both his and her part. These final chapters of the diary are profoundly moving. (The other great love in Pinter's life is Simon Grey, who does not get enough of a mention early on.)
Antonia Fraser is one of those who values and believes in a lasting and eternal love, ( she visits the Arundel Tomb quite early on and sees 'What survives of us is love'). She is fortunate to have not only found a deep and lasting love in her chosehn companion fopr a large part of hedr life but contributed to making it so. And she has so many children and grandchildren to conmfort her final years. For that she is a remarkably lucky woman. She is also a good'un just like Harold.