The Pinter queen

The perfect marriage? Pass the sickbag, Harold

Book of the Week
Radio 4

In Book of the Week Antonia Fraser recalled her life with Harold Pinter. Oh, what a time it was! Four decades spent leaning intensely over an intimate table at L'Etoile on Charlotte Street discussing the awful situation in Chile. Champagne until 6am, while downstairs the chauffeur waits patiently. Harold in the foyer of the National cutting a dash in a black shirt and biscuit-coloured suit; Antonia in a biscuit-coloured dress and garland of coloured beads.

Fraser read from the book herself, in what sounded like an antique soundbooth - or maybe she was sitting unusually far back from the microphone, entirely unharried, as only a person with a hairdo somewhat reminiscent of the Queen's might sit.

She described the day she had to tell her first husband she was "madly in love" with someone else. The whole thing was ghastly, "beginning with the moment I fetched him in from the thunderous garden where he was smoking and reading the FT". But Hugh took it on the chin. "The best living playwright," he observed, and (one imagines) inclined his head in reverence. "I always wanted to be in love," continued Antonia "and I always wanted to know a genius, which I suppose Harold sort of is." (Your reviewer kept thinking of that line of Martin Amis's in The Information: "People ask me what it's like being married to a genius and I say it's completely brilliant.") But by the time we got to "It is our 25th wedding anniversary. There is no doubt at all that our marriage is very very very to the infinite degree happier beyond all possible expectations," one was considering how deeply unattractive all this was. That to parade one's marriage in this way can only ever sound like boasting. This heavily abridged radio version of the book also glosses over the increasingly black-and-white patterning of Pinter's late work and public declarations, his bullying keenness to dismiss his political enemies' humanity, as if anyone who didn't agree with him was simply Beneath Contempt.

It is bad, I know, to feel so critical of another human being, but one couldn't listen to Fraser's account of her man's uxoriousness and feted brilliance for long.

On Radio 3, The Essay considered the life of the Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Knowing to my shame very little of the man, beyond his (possible factoid this) fondness for contriving battles between spiders and flies, I confess I struggled to stay fully alert during the week-long series of gently spoken monologues, so I texted a friend for help, and he said: bertie wooster goes in search of spinoza for jeeves in a bookshop and picks up a trashy novelette called spindrift. The author sees him do it and falls in love on the spot. A Good egg, sure. Heretic, thrown out of synagogue for identifying god with what is, rather than accepting him as creator. Lens maker. Amsterdam's Specsaver. Help? Which indeed it did, so I'm passing on this little nugget of a précis.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Palin Power