Friday, January 31, 2014

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay

Given that the 26th of January is Australia Day, it seemed only appropriate that - as that was the day I started my first book for Classics Club - it be something Australian. I went with Picnic at Hanging Rock, a book that I hadn't read in approximately 15 years.

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?

K xx


  1. Yep, years ago. And enjoyed the 1975 Peter Weir film, too. This is inspiring me to pick it up again! Agree with you on the lingering mystery being well done.

    Speaking of excellent Australian cinema of the '70s, have you seen "My Brilliant Career"?

    1. I have indeed - we had to study it in...year 9???...English, so I think we probably watched it about four times over the course of a term!

    2. I wrote a short love letter to a scene in that film. Big gah.

    3. I really need to watch that movie again... Also, my pick on that topic? The scene at the railway station in North & South. Also this little scene in a boiler room that you may be familiar with...

  2. Wait a sec, this isn't a true story!? I've been LIED TO. I've been to hanging rock (I even had a picnic there) and I feel like the farmer who I was staying with SAID it was true story. Jesus hell.


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