Eggshell Skull

Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull
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Eggshell Skull

Bri Lee

Winner of the Davitt Award for Debut 2019

Winner of the Ned Kelly Award for True Crime 2019

Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

Eggshell Skull: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must accept ‘take their victim as they come’: If a thin skull caused the death of someone after a punch, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime, nor the punishment.

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 Brisbane Magistrates Court as a bright-eyed judge’s associate. Eighteen months 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. Confronted by horrific criminal behaviour every day in court, Bri’s eyes were opened to the inequity of the legal system and how complainants in sex crime investigations and trials struggle to receive justice, are re-victimised, and let down by the system with heartbreaking frequency.

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 to speak the truth, as well as the stories around her, with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.


During her year as a judge’s associate in the District Court in Queensland, Bri Lee finds herself enduring case after case after case involving rape, sexual assault and child abuse. A fact that Lee keeps hidden from friends and family is that she herself is a survivor of childhood sexual assault. Barely able to tolerate this context, Lee is candid about her methods of coping. She is bulimic, she self-harms, she self-medicates. Her day-to-day existence is becoming increasingly precarious, such are the depths of her self-loathing. But after hearing the relief expressed in one particular complainant’s victim impact statement following a guilty verdict, Lee realises it is time to make a report to police about what happened to her. In the second half of the book, Lee documents her entry into the legal system as a complainant, and the excruciating years it takes for her matter to reach a resolution.

This book sears with white-hot feminist rage: at the reverberation of the abuse in her daily life; at the injustices of the legal system, the obtuseness of its bureaucracies, the institutional violence it perpetrates against victims. As we often hear, cases that actually make it to court are a small minority of the actual instances of abuse. The scale of this crisis is a cause for national shame, the legal revisitation of trauma on those affected a final cruelty. Lee shows in forensic detail the heroic strength and determination it takes to bear the arcane apparatus of the law. She draws the reader along at such pace and emotional intensity it is simply impossible to leave the book alone until the final page is read. This honest exploration of the devastation that abuse wreaks is made for – and perhaps emboldened by – these times, and Lee’s openness enables her clear-eyed purpose to ignite discussion and instigate reform. This outstanding book is already a publishing highlight of 2018.

Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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