Monday 18 February 2013

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock By Joan Lindsay

Isn't this edition purdy?!
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an iconic Australian story. The disappearance of three girls and one woman from a civilised picnic into the mysterious Hanging Rock plays on the worst fears of the landscape that are ingrained in the Australian psyche, which is why I think it has become such a classic. The tension between the European settlers and the harsh Australian bush depicted in the story is central to our cultural heritage. Its an important story, so it makes me cringe to admit that I didnt love it.

Ive always been fascinated by the central mystery itself, but this book is less about the actual disappearance of the girls and more about the effects the event has on those connected. It was interesting to see the ripples come into play, although it sometimes took a while to get there. I found the beginning quite good and the ending great, but the whole middle section was pretty tedious for me. Im not sure if its because I knew what was going to happen (or rather, what wasnt going to happen), but I just wasnt compelled to pick it up. In fact, I kind of dreaded it, because every time I did, Id get two pages in before I started to do this:

Maybe its the magic of Hanging Rock, which makes anyone who comes into contact with it sleepy and delirious. Maybe it's just a boring book. It doesnt help that its more character than plot focused, when many of the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes. Theres the perfect, pretty, popular girl; the fat, ugly, dunce; the strict and frugal headmistress; the pretty young French governess none of these characters had any real depth, and I didnt particularly care about any of them.

What I did love was the vivid imagery and evocative atmosphere, which was by turns dream-like and oppressive. The contrast between the open and uncontrollable Hanging Rock and the repressive, closed-in boarding school is powerful. Unfortunately it wasnt enough to make me really enjoy Picnic at Hanging Rock. Am I going to be kicked out of the country now?

Rating: 3.5/5

Spoilery Talking Points
  • I thought I desperately wanted to know what really happened to the girls, so I looked up The Secret of Hanging Rock. I think the editors were right to leave out the last chapter. Because it's kinda effed up, and not in a good way. Keeping the mystery, well, mysterious, makes the story so much stronger.
  • Maybe this is me being stupid again, but I was unsure whether Sara committed suicide or was murdered by the headmistress. 
  • I also couldn't figure out why Michael suddenly went off Irma, considering how well they were getting on. He seemed to just drop it without any real explanation. Weird.
Eye Candy
It was impossible to get the images of the actors from the movie out of my head. 

Fine Print
Published: Viking, 2012 (first published 1967)
Get It: Fishpond


  1. Ahh, Belle, I don't like it either! I read it when I was about thirteen, I think, and the next year we had a school camp to do a writing workshop with John Marsden, where we went and visited Hanging Rock, and climbed all over it. I was the kid doing periodic head-counts to make sure nobody had vanished yet. :-D
    I know it sounds a little bit silly to say that a mystery book is too mysterious, but... I'm the sort of person who needs clear resolution, and I didn't like the not knowing. On that note, I just went and checked the Secret of Hanging Rock link, and WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? Talk about a jump in genre!
    It's been a while since I read it, so I might be hazy, but I thought Michael was never especially keen on Irma really - I thought he'd been attracted to Miranda, when he saw her, and Irma was his link to Miranda, rather than him being interested in her for herself. And it was the groom, Michael's friend, whatever his name was, that rather liked Irma - or thought she was pretty, at any rate. Though I seem to recall his mother hinting that she wouldn't mind a marriage happening between them.
    But I think basically, it's the kind of book that requires a detailed explaining of what you've just read.

    1. I am SO glad I'm not the only one. That is SO AWESOME that you go to do a writing workshop with John Marsden! And climbed over Hanging Rock. I totally would have been head-counting too.
      I like a clear resolution too.
      What you say about Michael and Irma makes total sense. I thought he kinda dropped his obsession with Miranda when he got to know Irma, but it makes sense that she was actually part of that obsession.

    2. Slightly random, but... I was talking to my Mum about the ending, and she said she thought it sounded like an Aboriginal story - that the girls had broken a taboo by going to/not acknowledging a sacred place - in this case the rock - and were transformed as a consequence. A bit like the legend of the Three Sisters up in Katoomba. That slightly more fluid boundary between human and nature, between possibility and impossibility.
      Which I thought was an interesting idea. But if that was what the author was going for, I still do not think that it was very well integrated.

    3. That's really interesting! But yeah, it doesn't go with the rest of the book at all. So random.