#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · Australian · memoir · non-fiction

Book Review: Eggshell Skull By Bri Lee

Title: Eggshell Skulleggshell skull small

Author: Bri Lee

Published: May 23rd 2018

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 368

Genres: Non Fiction, Memoir

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

EGGSHELL SKULL: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must ‘take their victim as they find them’. If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime. 

But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his ‘victim’ as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?

Bri Lee began her first day of work at the Queensland District Court as a bright-eyed judge’s associate. Two years later she was back as the complainant in her own case. 

This is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge’s associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland-where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she’d vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.

Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past as well as with the stories around her, to speak the truth with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.

My review:

If there is one non fiction based memoir title you should read this year, make Eggshell Skull, by the incredibly brave Australian woman Bri Lee a priority. This is a scathing insight into the Australian justice system and the process of gaining a judicial result for a sexual assault claim. It is an incredibly raw and brave account of a young woman who finds herself on the other side of the justice system.

Bri Lee is the central figure behind Eggshell Skull. When this seething memoir opens, Bri is a bright eyed and bushy tailed young graduate, who takes up a position as a judge’s associate in the Queensland District Court system. She soon becomes disillusioned with the judicial system and Australian society. It is this sense of disillusion which leads Bri to finally seek justice for a crime that was committed against her as a young girl. Bri comes from a family with strong values, her father was a well respected and hardworking policeman. Bri was inspired to follow a career in the legal system, graduating as a successful law student. Her subsequent position as a judge’s associate opened Bri’s eyes to a litany of city and country based crimes across Queensland. What struck Lee about many of the cases she witnessed was the treatment of females, in particular the injustice that they received. This added fuel to the fire, a fire that Bri kept buried deep within her for many years. Finally, at breaking point, Bri decided to face her fears head-on and reveal her assault. This revelation sets in motion of a chain of events, as Bri first conveys her ordeal to loved ones, then the police and finally the courts, over again. This living nightmare is a testament to Bri Lee’s courage, as well as determination to seek retribution for the past. It is a past that has defined Bri’s sense of self.

Author Krissy Kneen has endorsed the back cover of Eggshell Skull with the comment,  ‘a page-turner of a memoir, impossible to put down’. I am with Krissy Kneen all the way, it is unusual for me to whip through a memoir as quickly as I did with Eggshell Skull. But perhaps this is a clue to the brave and brutal story that I was confronted with in my reading of Eggshell Skull. I couldn’t turn my eyes away from this book and I continued to read just one more page, until I was done.

I have nothing but admiration for Bri Lee. It takes guts to finally confront a sexual assault that occurred to this young woman when she was just a primary school aged young girl. It angered me that the perpetrator of Bri’s crime got away with his actions for so long. Her assailant also had the opportunity to commit further misappropriation towards other victims and he never acknowledged his crime, or impact of his crime. These type of stories need to be unearthed and shared. I applaud Allen and Unwin for backing this book and I hope that it paves the way for future works of this subject matter.

What amazed me about this particular case was the fact that Bri Lee is an astute and highly intelligent woman, well versed in Australian law. When Lee found herself on the other side of the law, she had difficulty getting her voice heard and accepted in the court system. Bri Lee’s case is just a drop in the ocean in a world full of unresolved sexual assault and harassment claims. These cases often do even make it as far as a report to police, let alone in court and rarely is the perpetrator apprehended for their crime. It is a sad state of affairs and I actually dread to think of how many cases along the same lines as Bri Lee’s case will never be aired.

What also shocked me about this book was the sections in the first part of Eggshell Skull. Bri Lee gives the reader a no holds back insight into her life as a first year judge’s associate. It is incredibly raw, honest and detailed. Bri reveals her personal struggles with an eating disorder, self harm attempts and her many instances of self loathing. It is hurtful to read at times, that a young woman with so much promise and a great deal to live for would feel this way.  As the memoir progresses, which Bri Lee hints at before the big reveal, we begin to form a picture of why her thoughts are directed this way. I was taken aback by the nature of the cases Bri attended to with her endearing ‘judge’. Just how many sexual assault, rape, harassment, child abuse and neglect cases are dealt with on a daily basis by the Queensland district court system astounds me. It is hard to read about these cases without developing nasty taste in your mouth, along with the heartbreak of those who find themselves at the centre of these cases. Bri Lee also illuminates the day-to-day tasks of a judge, a judge’s associate, lawyers, bailiffs and jurors. It makes for a fascinating read.

The second half of Eggshell Skull is where Bri Lee really comes into her own. She has moments of elation and utter lows. All the while she is supported by her family, partner and outside agencies. Bri does the hard yards, relaying her painful story times many times over and she has to painstakingly wait for her time in court. She must be patient and determined to stick to her cause, despite many working on her case requesting that Bri walk away or take an inferior resolution to settle the case. I have all the time in the world for this courageous woman, who did beat the system and will hopefully inspire more sexual abuse victims to speak out. Eggshell Skull is an informative memoir that holds revolutionary claim.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee was published on 23rd May 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Eggshell SkullBri Leevisit here

*I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Eggshell Skull is book #108 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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