Alix O’Neil’s memoir The Troubles With Us is full of tales of growing up among the sectarian divisions of Northern Ireland in the 80s and 90s. Both hilarious and frightening, it’s a brilliant insight into living in a war zone and also having to deal with family secrets. She tells us about her love of Nick Hornby, spying on people’s bookshelves on Zoom, and a lingering fondness for her childhood comic annuals.

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home 

We have two good old Ikea Billy bookshelves in our living room, a row of books on a windowsill on the landing, then stash the rest in bathrooms, on bedside tables – wherever we can find space.

Which books are your most recent bookshelf additions?

I’ve just finished An Unravelling by Elske Rahill. It’s a portrait of four generations of women in a dysfunctional family. Rahill is a gorgeous writer –  her prose is so rich in imagery. Before that, I read and loved Diana Evans’ Ordinary People.

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

I try not to, but snooping at politicians’ Zoom backdrops has been one of the more enjoyable lockdown pastimes. I had to laugh at Dominic Raab’s collection of seemingly brand-new economic tomes on his windowsill.

Which is your most treasured book?

Can I choose three? One Day by David Nicholls, Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife and an annotated copy of Alfred Vogel’s The Nature Doctor that belonged to my grandfather.

What do your bookshelves say about you?  

That I eat too much and like to laugh.

What’s the oldest book on your shelf?

My husband has an early edition of Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis. Otherwise, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity has had pride of place on my shelves for years. I read it while studying in Italy for a month during university and have been a huge fan of Hornby’s writing ever since.

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

I tried colour-coding once, but my children – I have two boys under three – didn’t care for that arrangement. These days, it’s an accomplishment if the books stay on the shelves.

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelf?

No, but I have a big box full of Mandy & Judy and Bunty annuals in the garage that I can’t bring myself to part with.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

Book giver. I’ve not had much success sharing books over the years, so I have a strictly no-lending policy these days. But I love gifting books I think friends will love.

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

Michelle Obama’s.

Alix was talking to Sonia Weir

Alix O’Neill
is a journalist, writer and broadcast commentator. An alumnus of Trinity College Dublin and Goldsmiths College, University of London, she lives in southwest France with her husband and two young sons. The Troubles With Us, her first book, is published by Fourth Estate in hardback, eBook and audio download.
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Instagram: alixoneill

Read Sonia’s review of The Troubles With Us


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Billy 1

Billy 2

Anywhere will do