All The Time We Thought We Had: A Review

Gordon and I had worked together before we actually met face to face. After years of sending emails back and forth about news stories for Dutch News, we finally decided to grab a cup of coffee. He was a few minutes late and, after ordering, I asked him how he came to be in the Netherlands, as I would with any fellow foreigner.

“You don’t know?” he asked. I did not. I wondered if he was famous in some circle I didn’t run in.

Instead, he gave me the very abbreviated plot of All The Time We Thought We Had.

After the meeting, I messaged our boss, the editor-in-chief of Dutch News. “Why didn’t you tell me Gordon’s deal? I felt like such an asshole when I asked him how he ended up here.”

“I told you,” she replied. “You just forgot.”

But this isn’t a story you forget.

The book follows his story of meeting and falling in love with his wife, her initial cancer diagnosis, their decision to relocated from Scotland to her native country of the Netherlands and the return of the cancer which eventually kills her. Magteld died only seven weeks after the couple, and their two autistic children, arrived in the country.

The story is, as you can imagine, heart wrenching. I was superficially privy to some of the heartbreak and loss her death caused. Gordon will occasionally post photos of her on Facebook, with adorable captions. He still wears his wedding ring. He sometimes refers to Magteld as his wife, in the present tense, as though she’s at home or at her job or popping into the Albert Heijn.

This isn’t a book just for expats or just for widows or just for people with autistic children. It tells the story of a couple and their real, honest relationship and how they were forced to dramatically alter their lives and, as the title says, about all the time they thought they had.

When Gordon sent me the advance copy of the book, he told me that he hoped I enjoyed it and that it wasn’t meant to be depressing.

On a more personal note, the book was a double dose of depressing for me, as a person who imagines that someday they will write a book. Gordon is such a gifted writer. I knew that he was talented because I’d seen his work before and I’d already felt the occasional pang of jealousy. But as I finished his memoir, I was both depressed because the story itself is sad but also because I felt my own writing was inadequate since his writing is so impressive. Which led me to be jealous of a recently widowed single father of two autistic children. Which made me depressed about my own self-centeredness. Honestly, the book is depressing.

But I did enjoy it.

You can listen to me interview Gordon about the book on our podcast, the Dutch News Podcast, a project which also came out of that initial coffee meeting. Or go straight for it and buy the book on Bol.