Thursday, 11 March 2010

Must you Go by Antonia Fraser

This is at times a beautiful, moving and intimate account of the private lives of two very famous people. I must admit I have not enjoyed a book so much in a long time.

Antonia Fraser is a gifted writer and historian of note. I have made a mental record to read at least her biography of Oliver Cromwell. Fraser is the widow of playwright Harold Pinter. Although Pinter’s death was over a year ago her love is still apparently alive.

The title of the book comes from the words that Harold Pinter first spoke to her — at the end of a dinner party in 1975 — were: “Must you go?” “I do remember weighing it up,” she says now. “I often think what would have happened if I had said, ‘No, I must go home and take the children to school.’ I will never know.”

In an interview with Tatler Magazine, she recounts why she published her diary

“It was, she says, never intended for publication. Then, a month after Pinter’s death, she was in the midst of “the terrible administration that death brings ... it was dark, and the whole world was black, and I thought, ‘No, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to do it’.”

The love and mutual respect they had for each other clearly had a way of mitigating their transparent differing political backgrounds. I love Fraser’s loyalty in defending Pinter and her standing by him through tough times is inspiring

The book is not heavily laden with humour, but when it comes it is amusing in a telephone exchange with Steve McQueen ("Don't shout at me, Harold, I'm not your butler." "I don't shout at my butler.

Perhaps the hardest part of the book is her dealing with Pinter’s many illnesses. She shows them both fought them with courage and much love. Speaking of love one of my favourite parts of the book is the poetry from Pinter I did not know too much about his poems but they are so touching you wished you could have thought of them but I will use them on my own wife.

My favourite is

To My Wife

I was dead, and now I live

You took my hand

I blindly died

You took my hand

You watched me die

And found my life

You were my life

When I was dead

You are my life

And so I live

Harold Pinter

June 2004

Reading her diaries has pushed me into start reading her historical books. Her diaries do reveal some of her methods of research. Perhaps the most important is to visit places of importance in the lives of the person she is writing about.

Perhaps of all the books, I have read in the last few years this one really touched something inside. It may well be strange to quote my favourite football manager, but in an interview with the Times he said

"I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art. When you read some books they are fantastic, the writer touches something in you that you know you would not have brought out of yourself. He makes you discover something interesting in your life. If you are living like an animal, what is the point of living? What makes daily life interesting is that we try to transform it into something that is close to art. And football is like that. When I watch Barcelona, it is art." This sentiment echoes my thoughts on this book.

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