Author: Joan Lindsay
Genres [according to Goodreads]:
Young Adult > Fiction > Literary Fiction > Historical Fiction > Classics
Cultural > Australia
Stand-alone Novels > Short Novels
Published/Publisher: April 28th 1977/Penguin
Format Read In: Paperback
Summary From Goodreads
In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others…
My Review [SPOILERS AHEAD]:
“Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of day, history suggests that the human spirit wanders farthest in the silent hours between midnight and dawn. Those dark fruitful hours, seldom recorded, whose secret flowerings breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.” – Picnic at Hanging Rock, J. Lindsay
Unlike most of the books I’ve picked up, I actually found this one stashed away in the bookshelf in my family room. When I asked my mom (the only other person who reads as much as I do in my family) about the book, she had no idea where it came from, which was kind of freaky and highly appropriate for the kind of story it held.
To say that this book was an engima wrapped in another engima, enveloped by a confusing mystery, cradled by a plot that jumped all over the place, nannied by unfinished riddles and raised to adulthood in the frightening silence of the Australian outback would be a vast understatement. In a nutshell, this book will MESS. YOU. UP. My brain certainly kept malfunctioning on me, as it tried to follow one illustrative analogy after the other. But good luck trying to use any form of high school English class deduction skills to decipher the metaphors; frankly, I don’t think there actually were any but there can be no other explanation!
The summary is actually a perfect explanation of what happened in the book, and is the only solid fact you get for the rest of the novel concerning the main mystery. Three school girls of Appleyard College–Miranda, Marion Quade, and Irma Leopold–visit Hanging Rock, an actual geological location in Victoria, Australia, for a picnic on Valentine’s day. Accompanying the girls are the mathematics teacher Miss Greta McCraw and the French teacher Mlle. de Poitiers. The three girls, followed by outsider Edith Horson, separate from their classmates to explore more of the mysterious places hidden around the Hanging Rock. They eventually decide to take a break in a clearing. Up till then, the book didn’t seem out of the ordinary.
Then sh*t gets real.
Miranda, the obvious leader whom all the girls (I am not kidding you, literally ALL THE GIRLS, including the female teachers) are in love with (also am not kidding you; some of them may be straight, but all of them are swinging Miranda’s way with the ferocity of a thousand queer punches to the face), looks up into the distance, ignoring her companions, and without a word, gets up from resting in the grass and begins to wander off quickly. Irma and Marion follow her without hesitation, leaving Edith who struggles to follow them but cannot keep up. In hysterics, Edith runs right back to the group and collapses, having as much trouble as I did over trying to figure out what the hell she’d just witnessed (in my case, what the hell I’d just read).
I am leaving no details out, I swear. The three girls literally just go off, with no explanation or any other literary fluff, no indication where they are headed or if they are following something. It takes the author two paragraphs, much of which was filled with Edith’s frantic scrambling after the girls, to set in motion the whole sh*it storm of the book.
And you know what? Same thing happens with Miss McCraw. While she was still sitting with the other girls, it’s described in the book that she simply got up from sitting with the other teacher and wandered off as well; whether in the same direction as the other three girls, I can’t really figure out.
I just…WHAT? What even!? And if you think this is ever explained, I have some bad news for you, my friend. This is not one of those mystery novels that is solved at the end. You literally spend the whole book following the aftermath of the disappearances; you watch the panic that seizes all the other girls morph into an almost violent frenzy–especially against Irma, the only girl that comes back–you watch the Headmistress slowly lose her mind as the pressure of the media and the residence of the town push her to quarantine the whole school and everyone in it, and eventually push her to murder one of her students and evidently commit suicide, you watch every other side character try to rack their minds to figure out why weeks and weeks, then months and months of searching lead no hints, no clues, NO NOTHING, about the disappearance.
Try as you might, too, when you try to put the pieces together. But it’s already a journey to find those damn pieces.
But as frustrated as I was, and as exasperated I felt when I finally finished and felt nothing wasreally answered, after a few days away from the book, I started to see the appeal of a mystery like that. With strings unattached, you kind of have to think harder and it was almost fun to do so, believe it or not. It also was kind of nice to see how the characters were as confused as you are; no surprise characters with vital information popping up anywhere.
The characters themselves were quite interesting. The writing is pretty old-fashioned, but you could still get a feel for the characters, even Marion and Miranda who only stuck around for 36 pages. However, in a book that placed so heavy a burden on the actual mystery and plot, some of the characters were still relatively one-dimensional. The descriptions of the settings were top-notch and probably the book’s highest pride.
I’ve seen many different theories on what happened and what different imageries mean, and I think that all plays into the novel’s charm; no two theories are similar and no theory is without a decent base.
Apparently the book was made into a movie. I’d like to watch it if I can find it. There is also an extra chapter written by the author, scrapped in the final production, that claims to answer the mystery. I’m debating about reading it because I’m still quite hooked on the idea that it is simply unsolvable but who knows, my curiosity might take over some day.