Other People’s Houses

Hilary McPhee

Other People's Houses
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Other People’s Houses

Hilary McPhee

In Other People’s Houses publishing legend Hilary McPhee exchanges one hemisphere for another. Fleeing the aftermath of a failed marriage, she embarks on a writing project in the Middle East, for a member of the Hashemite royal family, a man she greatly respects. Here she finds herself faced with different kinds of exile, new kinds of banishment.

From apartments in Cortona and Amman and an attic in London, McPhee watches other women managing magnificently alone as she flounders through the mire of Extreme Loneliness.

Other People’s Houses is a brutally honest memoir, funny, sad, full of insights into worlds to which she was given privileged access, and of the friendships which sustained her.

And ultimately, of course, this is the story of returning home, of picking up the pieces, and facing the music as her house and her life takes on new shapes.


At one time, Hilary McPhee’s life was in upheaval and she was struggling with the illness and death of her parents, a bout of cancer and the end of a long marriage. It was a period of deep desolation and loneliness. Then, out of the blue, she was contacted by an old friend with whom she’d played high-school hockey. They had pursued separate lives; McPhee as a publisher, an author and a stint as chair of the Australia Council. Her friend had also had a varied career, but was then working for a member of the Jordanian royal family and this friend told Hilary that she might hear from them.

And Hilary did; Prince Hassan needed some help with a book he was writing and asked if she could come to Jordan to discuss it. Knowing little of Jordan or the Prince, she read what she could get her hands on and the palace sent speeches and writings. After a meeting with the prince in Amman, Hilary was retained, although it was never quite clear what that meant. She relocated to Cortona in Italy to be closer to Jordan and so began almost four years of working with the prince and the Jordanian royal family before her time with them abruptly ended.

In Other People’s Houses we learn about the Middle East, but we also learn about an incredibly smart, creative woman in her later middle age and how she learns to navigate a new life. This is an inspiring book.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.

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