Book Review: All the Time We Thought We Had By Gordon Darroch
2019-02-26 | By Cathy Leung
It’s possible that author Gordon Darroch’s memoir has already been recommended to you. In my case each recommendation came with hushed tones, knowing sighs, and a warning not to read it on public transport–unless you’re cool with blubbing your eyes out in front of complete strangers.
I was prepared for a sad story though, as several years ago I came across a moving and well-articulated blog post by Darroch about his loneliness, and the backstory of losing his wife and caring for his two autistic sons whilst settling in the Netherlands. All the Time We Thought We Had is a blow-by-blow account of his wife Magteld’s illness and the excruciating cruelty their family endured. In rich detail we get to know the spirited 20-year old woman who left Holland for love and who died of cancer way too soon, resulting in a full-on emotional assault that I was not prepared for.
But this is no one-note ‘misery memoir’, as Darroch is too good a writer for that, and remains unfailingly honest, including when he thinks about escaping the dredge of daily caring. It’s also a study in empathy, giving thoughtful insights on how to be of actual use and comfort to sick friends or family, and the stumbling blocks people with disabilities face.
The writing itself is atmospheric, with a great sense of place, setting the scenes with skills you’d expect of a professional journalist. Landscapes, local colour and cultural observations paint a vivid backdrop that make this a specific story set in a specific location, despite the universal issues. Darroch matches this with a clear-headed command of his timeline, guiding the reader along a non-linear path and unravelling the story in the order he feels it should be told. It’s a book of pairs–the undulating intimacy of two lovers over time, two brothers coping with life in their own way, a tale of two cities, Glasgow and The Hague, the double-whammy their family is dealt–cancer and autism–and the story’s medical history and metaphysical journey.
Darroch has experienced huge loss and personal pain, and he may feel all he has to show for it is a kind of frazzled wisdom. But those who have a little, often give a lot, and he generously shares the little he has gained. How can we show solidarity with him? Nurture empathy.
All the Time We Thought We Had
by Gordon Darroch
About the author
Cathy Leung heads up the non-profit Broadcast Amsterdam, sharing local stories for Amsterdam on TV, online, and 24/7 radio. Cathy tweets for fun @cathycentral.