Title: Other Houses

Author: Paddy O’Reilly

Publisher: Affirm Press, 2022; RRP: $32.99

Paddy O’Reilly is a well-known Australian writer. She has written four novels including 2022’s Other Houses: The Wonders (2014), The Fine Colour of Rust (2012) and The Factory (2005). She has also written two collections of short stories and a novella, all published over the last couple of decades. Paddy has been short-listed and successful for numerous awards, both in Australia and overseas. Paddy O’Reilly lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Set in Melbourne’s western suburbs, Other Houses tells a vivid story of disadvantage and struggle. Lily is the mum of Jewelee, a rebelling teenager, when Janks, a reformed drug addict joins their family. They decide to leave the rough side of town and move across the tracks. Their motive is to give their daughter a chance to attend a better school and provide her with the opportunities in life they never had.

Lily collaborates with a friend, Shannon, cleaning other people’s houses. Their boss is a shifty character with his  own interests at heart. The daily grind of the work is back breaking for the two women, but they pride themselves on their ability to achieve exacting standards. They are good friends supporting each other and making the most of earning a wage together. The clients they work for are a precious lot but cleaning their houses on a regular basis provides the women with amusement, concern and intriguing insights into the secrets and oddities of other people’s lives.

Janks works in a factory. He and Lily are dependent on both their wages to make ends meet but no matter how hard it becomes, Lily and Janks are determined to turn Jewelee’s life around, and they are comforted when she finally shows signs of responding. They teeter on the edge of financial fragility each week but believe in what they are doing, for Jewelee and themselves. Then something happens that shatters their plan for a better existence.

George Haddad on Other Houses: ‘trauma without the porn’

@ the sydney review of books

This book has Paddy O’Reilly’s signature written all over it: clever and humorous storytelling that bursts alive on the pages. It also contains an honesty that is cringe worthy but so accurate that the reader becomes acutely engaged with the characters. Lily, Janks and Jewelee don’t mince words. They are living and evolving products of a world where privilege is absent and surviving without it is harsh.

Written with a tension that has the reader turning pages, Other Houses provides a window into hardship and poverty and the extreme difficulty of finding a way out. I was left with a reminder of how the circumstance of class inequality and disadvantage is difficult to exit. In fact, for some people and families, escape is near impossible.  

I loved this book and the characters danced in my head for days after I finished reading it. It’s a close-up read. Clever, funny, serious and real.  

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, October 2023

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group