Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

This is an Australian classic. To me it had hints of Muriel Spark and Henry James. A mystery, it was riveting and spooky. It's set up as if it were based on a true story that happened in 1900 (It was written in 1967), but I researched afterwards and it is not based on anything - it's completely fiction.

A group of students from a girls' college outside of Melbourne go on a day trip to Hanging Rock for a picnic. Towards the end of the afternoon, four girls go off on their own to hike nearer the rock. A little while later, one girl, Edith, comes back screaming and terrified, though she can't explain from what. The other three cannot be found. Also it is now discovered that one of the two teacher-chaperones has also gone missing. After a frantic search, everyone returns to the school, the authorities are alerted, and a big search is organized for the next day, as well as an investigation. A second picnicking party is questioned, as the nephew Mike and coachman Albert were the last people to see the three missing girls. A week later, Mike and Albert return to conduct their own search. Mike manages to find one of the girls, Irma, barely alive. She recuperates, but never remembers what happened. Eventually the school is destroyed by the scandal, which impacts all of them the rest of their lives.

The thing that makes the story the most spooky, is how things are never fully explained. A lot of the ending must be guessed at. There originally was a final chapter that the author's editor suggested she remove. Apparently some books are published with Chapter 18 but mine was not. I did find an explanation of it online. It's pretty mind-bendy and I think I wouldn't have liked it as all of a sudden the events become very supernatural. I get that the supernatural aspect has to do with aboriginals and a lot of Australian spiritualism, but it surprised me as I hadn't though we were going to go there (aside from perhaps a ghost or two.) I think the book is stronger without that last chapter, if a little frustrating. But of course that's one reason I am still thinking of it, several days later - I am still trying to figure out if a couple of later deaths were murders or suicides, if Irma really did know what happened and just refused to say anything, if she regretted having been saved, why Mike refused to pursue a relationship with her, how all this related to Albert's luck having so suddenly and dramatically changed for the better, and so on. It is certainly satisfying to have the ending all wrapped up in a bow, but it's more intriguing to let readers' interpret for themselves.

Here are some pictures of Hanging Rock:


Hannah Stoneham said...

I think that I have read about this before but never actually read the book. I also think that there might be a film of the book which is supposed to be good. thank you for sharing and reminding me that I would like to read this. It certainly does sound quite psychological....
happy reading

Teresa said...

Interesting! I didn't even know this was a book, but I saw and loved the movie several years ago, and the book sounds quite similar. Loved the lack of resolution!

Booklover Book Reviews said...

I think the beauty of this book is the way it makes you think of all the possibilities, whys and wherefores...it is packed with tiny clever little details and potential linkages.... many years after first reading it, I can remember it clearly today, definitely a classic!

StuckInABook said...

My book group read this a year or so ago, and none of us particularly liked it.. my problem was that I didn't realise it was inconclusive until the end, and I'd been expecting a whole explanation. Then I requested a copy of the final chapter (published separately in the UK, to celebrate some anniversary) and it is beyond bizarre!

Nice to see another blogger using more or less the same template as me ;-)

Rebecca Chapman said...

Glad you enjoyed the book - it is spooky isn't it. I usually hate books that leave things up in the air, but I loved this one for the fact that it was a mystery. I don't want to read that final chapter at all. PS. My theory is that Mike is gay... just a thought.

Carin Siegfried said...

Becky, you are not alone in your theory about Mike! While researching about the book after I finished it, I found that theory is very popular. But it isn't really touched on in the last chapter from what I can tell. So that's still up in the air, even if you do hunt it down.

From what I read about the last chapter, it's really confusing and trippy, and I think that Americans and Brits mostly would find it out of left field. I only spent 6 months in Australia, but most Americans haven't heard of Aboriginal Dream theories and such and it would be super-weird to them. So whie it's a little frustrating (to some of us!) without the last chapter, I don't think the book would have left Australia with it.