- my rating: 5 stars
- published by: Allen & Unwin
- genres: memoir, non-fiction
- content warnings: rape and sexual assault often described explicitly, unusual & cruel sex acts, description of self harm and suicide ideation, descriptions of purging/disordered eating, depression and anxiety, emotional distress, discussions of substance and alcohol abuse, use of slurs
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.
Since Eggshell Skull released, I’ve seen so many positive reviews for it coming from so many different and varied sources. From trade review, to booktube, to that one regular at work who reads in the morning, everyone seemed to be loving this book. So I was so excited to pick this up with Taryn and finally read it.
Eggshell Skull is a harrowing insight into the Australian justice system, and it’s many downfalls. We follow Bri Lee – first through her experiences working as a judges associate in Queensland, primarily listening to sexual assault and child sex offence cases – and then into her experience taking her own childhood abuser to court.
“Judges tell juries: if a defendant lies, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s guilty, but if a woman is crying as she dials triple zero after being raped, she might just be putting on a show.”
Eggshell Skull is hard to read at times. It’s heavy and many of the cases Bri Lee describes in detail are hard to read about. But because of it, this memoir always felt extremely honest and authentic, and this was one of it’s greatest strengths. The majority of this book focusses on the Australian legal system and examining it’s many flaws. This included the extreme difficulty of complainants in sexual offence cases to secure conviction, especially if they experience multiple marginalisations. I found Bri Lee’s insights extremely thoughtful and well articulated, and I could feel her own frustration with the system myself while reading this. The only downfall was that I think Bri Lee’s discussions around privilege became a little muddled by the end. I appreciated her talking about how privilege affects convictions earlier in the story, but I wish she had expanded on that more in relation to her own case.
Bri Lee has such a strong narrative voice that really carries this book. Her thoughtful and insightful commentary into the justice system, and her introspection really grabbed me from the beginning. Following her narration, I found myself easily pulled into the book and compelled to just keep on reading – a feeling I don’t often get with non-fiction like I do with fiction. I also appreciated how Lee was able to balance personal sections of this book with the more informative and factual parts about the legal system. The balance of legal lingo and personal storytelling was spot on.
Eggshell Skull is emotionally harrowing and difficult to read at times, but ultimately an important and timely book. I found this so informative and interesting whilst also engaging on a personal level and it definitely gave me a lot to reflect on. Bri Lee is a fantastic writer, and if fiction writing is ever something she pursues I would love to read it. As for this book itself, I do have to say I wish more people would read it. I think it would be eye-opening and informative for many people.
until next time