Rating:

Reviewed by Joanne Lakomski

With a dusting of reminisces inserted into the entries of her diary, biographer and novelist Antonia Fraser’s book Must You Go? reads as a toast to her life with Harold Pinter, 2005 Nobel Prize-Winner for Literature. Fraser’s entries deal with the mundane and the meaningful on an expansive stage. Part gossip column and part social commentary, this book gave me insight into the events and times influencing the decades-long love affair of this literary couple.

Peppered throughout the book, Fraser recounts interactions with a social strata including Jackie Kennedy, Václav Havel, Arthur Miller, the British royals, Mike Nichols, Lauren Bacall, and Salman Rushdie. Fraser and Pinter visited conflict areas, resort areas, and the cities that are the centers of civilization. She and Pinter had a passion for political and social causes, and led both public and private lives.

In 1976, the author and Pinter went on their “First Theatrical Tour” and visited Berlin…

13 February – A Friday Nothing particularly unlucky except my persistent flu. Knew I still had a temperature. Nevertheless spirit kept me going to see the Wall: its tattiness, its dirtiness, the chief impression, plus a certain disgusting element in the thick pipe which now tops it. Connotation of the sewer now resting on top of the world.

Fraser’s interspersing of Pinter’s writings throughout the book supports their love story and deep connection. In his first poem to Fraser in 1975, Pinter writes,

To Antonia

….To my side

And you dance in my arms

And you turn

And stay in my clasp

Where I found you forever….

Some of Fraser’s reminisces referred to people and events unfamiliar to me. I noticed it most often early in the book, in the entries from the late seventies and eighties. These references were confusing and I just kept reading because, overall, I selected this book to read about writers.

And, I was not disappointed. Fraser’s writing was often rich both in quality and in context.

18 November 2003 Scene outside Quaker Meeting House apocalyptic and rather touching. Flickering candles. Lots and lots of police everywhere: this is for Bush’s arrival in London. The banner I liked best condemned Bush, Blair, and Saddam. … Personally, however, I don’t go for this condemnation of Bush and Blair as “Christian gents” any more than you should condemn al-Qaeda for being “Muslim gents’. It’s for your works not your faith that you should be condemned.

Weaving the details of her life with Pinter and the potency of their love story, all set against the backdrop of history not long passed, Fraser’s book was a pleasurable and interesting read. I want to sit and write now, to capture with lyrical words and evocative images an emotion, a feeling, a passing whisper – to maintain the vitality stirred through the lives and words of Fraser and Pinter. And I count that not a bad result generated from reading a book.

Rating: 3.5/5

Joanne is an organization development and human resources professional with a business background living in Ohio. She has lived in Europe, Africa (including her Peace Corps service in South Africa), and arround the United States. She loves to plays volleyball, read, write, and has a cat named Ender.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Nan A. Talese Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.