Bri Lee’s memoir and meditation on the Queensland legal system, Eggshell Skull, is her first book. The daughter of a good cop, a judge’s associate straight out of university, Lee is forced to confront the reality of the system, the basic fallibility of our human-constructed expressions and systems of justice, as well as her own past. For while she is privileged and educated with a good job, a nice boyfriend and a supportive family, after years of struggle she found herself on the other side of the courtroom telling her own story.
Eggshell Skull is named after the well established legal doctrine that a defendant must take the victim as they find them. If person A has a skull as thin as an eggshell and person B struck them on the head intending only to punch but in fact killed them, B is responsible for the damage that they cause A. Lee’s premise is what if we flip this the other way? What if the complainant is strong, angry, educated, articulate? What if the complainant is her?
Intrigued by the lineup and subject matter, I went to the Melbourne book launch of Eggshell Skull, with the author in conversation with Clementine Ford. It was a fascinating, challenging, empowering event. It was fantastic to hear these two intellectually powerful woman holding forth on these great matters essential to the structure of our society. While this is Lee’s story, her experiences have larger implications on our legal system as a whole and I found her perspective on it all informed and insightful. What that event did not prepare me for was the deep and painful intimacy of the book itself.
Fresh from the kind of joyous international holiday that only post-graduation pre-employment can give you, Lee starts her prestigious new job as an associate to a District Court judge. He travels across the state and she witnesses first and across metro and regional Queensland just how different justice looks if you are a woman. Lee refuses to let her edges be worn off, she insists on feeling it all. She rages and mourns over the injustices as the echoes of her own personal history rings even louder in her ears.
Lee is a beautiful writer: her descriptions of the sticky oppressive summer heat tingles on your skin; the scratchiness of a skirt suit under the eyes of superior colleagues when you feel like you just don’t belong; the dropped-off-the-cliff feeling deep in your stomach deep when you sense something is about to completely go wrong. This writing style bringing together memoir and analysis means that this book is a multi-layered read that affects you in many ways.
Frankly, this is a woman I deeply respect and relate to. Lee is fierce and eloquent, and her reckoning is incredibly powerful and compelling to read. She is unflinching in her recounting, on herself as well as her accused. This story is bigger than her, but Lee’s appraisal of modern Australia with her wit and empathy and courage finds our society definitely wanting.