In her preface to Must You Go?, Antonia Fraser characterizes her latest work, a memoir about her life with the Nobel Prize-winning playwright and political activist Harold Pinter, as a love story in which “the first light and the twilight” are dealt with “more fully than the high noon in between”—but what a high noon it is! Fraser and Pinter wrested an incredible “in between” out of their interwoven story and certainly made the most of their extraordinary 33 years together.
Based on diaries she began keeping in 1968, Must You Go? is a love story (with a dash of scandal for spice), but it succeeds on many other levels as well. It is a window into British high society, a glimpse of the inspiration behind some of Pinter’s finest achievements and a kaleidoscope of historical and personal events. Most significantly, it is a testament to the “private happiness” possible in a supportive marriage between two dynamic and ambitious people.
Their “high noon” springs to life in these pages as Fraser reveals Pinter’s ardor for her, his zeal for writing and theater, his bold political activism, his valiant fight against illness and his incredible resolve to deliver his Nobel Prize speech despite his failing health. When she first met him at the dinner party that changed both their lives, she was a married mother of six and had established a noteworthy literary career herself. As she was about to leave the party, Fraser recalls, “He looked at me with those amazing, extremely bright black eyes. ‘Must you go?’ he said. I thought of home, my lift, taking the children to school the next morning. . . .” But those eyes won out.
Fraser and Pinter began living together in 1975, and for the next 33 enviable years, these two shared not only the writing life, the life of the theater, the “celebrity” life stemming from their long list of famous friends (Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie—they knew everyone!), the life political and the life domestic (at the book’s conclusion there are 18 grandchildren), but also a mutual tenderness and respect that buoyed them in times of turmoil. These “true connoisseurs” of life, as the writer Margaret Atwood (also a friend) might call them, often celebrated their literary successes and other elations with a glass of champagne. With this latest triumph, I believe I hear the popping of a distant cork!