Picnic at Hanging Rock is a somewhat notorious Australian classic, because many people are under the (erroneous) impression that it's a true story, despite the fact that it was published in 1967, and also because after Joan Lindsay's death a final chapter was released that was meant to explain everything but which instead was (apparently. I haven't read it and don't plan to) a bit of a trainwreck.
On Valentine's Day 1900, a group of schoolgirls go, as the title would suggest, on a picnic at Hanging Rock. The hot afternoon sends most of the party to sleep, but a group of four girls decide to go exploring. Several hours later, one returns in hysterics. At around the same time, it's discovered that one of the teachers is also missing. A massive search ensues, but no sign of the three girls and the teacher is found. A week later, a young well-to-do Englishman and his coachman - who had seen the girls heading off into the bush on Valentine's Day - conduct their own search and find one of the girls. The others are never seen again.
|Hanging Rock in 1902. Source.|
This covers the first half of the book. The second half details not so much the search for the girls - though it does include some police investigation - but how their disappearance impacted on those around them over the subsequent months.
For me, the story itself isn't particularly scary. Some teenage girls walk into the bush and don't come back, big whoop. Where things get scary is not knowing what happened. By leaving their disappearance open ended - did they get kidnapped? Murdered? Lost? Disappear into an alternate universe through a stone circle?? - Lindsay is forcing the reader to draw their own conclusions. But the story is such that - at least in my case - your brain can't quite decide what the most likely reason is, and you find yourself lying awake at 1.30am thinking about the story and trying to work out what happened for yourself.
The characters tend to be a little same-same-but-different - all the good characters are beautiful and thin and loved by everyone around them, and the bad characters are fat and ugly and universally disliked. My favourite character, hands down, was Albert. He's such a stereotypical Aussie country boy, from his language to his actions to the fact that he really doesn't care about class and just treats everyone the same. He's a fabulous counterpoint to all the well-to-do characters.
It's a quick read, clocking in at just over 200 pages and - despite giving me a somewhat sleepless night pondering the mystery - is well worth the effort.
Have you read it?