Deborah Biancotti's Reviews > Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
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Jan 16, 2012

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bookshelves: writer-women, oz, aww2013


I spent most of this book thinking it was terribly over-hyped. It's a nasty, brutal book about a nasty, brutal landscape and the uneasy fit of a class of educated but unprepared people. The discord of the harsh black background of the Hanging Rock against the white of pantaloon and crinoline is uncomfortable and at times, even frightening. But in the end - or rather, in the end of the book I read, without the additional and much maligned 'final chapter' - the real horror is not the landscape of Victorian Australia, but the inner landscape of the human monsters who live there. The Australia of this book is a satisfyingly alien, frightening place.

But I was bored for quite a lot of it. I was bored by the apparently perfect Miranda, who comes across - frankly, if you're bored, like I was - as a bright-haired demon, who makes everyone feel bad because they're not as good as her. I was bored by the upper-class toff with nothing but passion to offer, Mike, who nearly died in an attempt to find out what happened to the incomparable Miranda. I was bored by the boring world of college, a shut-in place where useless skills are passed down from monsters to little girls in an attempt to keep the savage aspects of human nature at bay. (Note to self: do not read stuff set in schools, you HATE it.)

I found Lindsay's moralism heavy-handed and - by today's standards - quite silly. Sure, she has a noble horsehand by the name of Albert who provides an opportunity for some patronising humour - largely about his spelling - but apart from him, you really do have to be a) beautiful (by which she very clearly means 'not fat', which is a principle that is repeated often) and b) rich, in order to be a good person.

The book reminded me of contemporary writer Muriel Spark, but without Spark's control or her deft, occasional stabs at compassion. I did think there was no compassion in this book. It was mean and, occasionally, felt like a short novella by Dickens, one about the spitefulness of life and the spiteful people you meet there, in spiteful circumstance, & how we all deserve our nasty fates.

Until I got to the end, and the end is one of those endings that is shocking and awful and yet so obvious that it forced me backwards across the timeline to check I'd remembered it all correctly. And I was horrified all over again as I read, backwards, of the horrible relationship that had lead to this horrible thing. The awful assumptions, the equating of money with class and the so-very-false conclusions that brings. I was so saddened by these women's lives and so damn impressed by what Lindsay had pulled off. She even made me feel compassion for a character I'd quickly despised at the very beginning of the book.

And now I think I might actually want to read this damn book again!

#aww2013 no.12
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Quotes Deborah Liked

Joan Lindsay
“Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”
Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

Reading Progress

January 16, 2012 – Shelved
January 16, 2012 – Shelved as: writer-women
July 7, 2012 – Shelved as: oz
April 6, 2013 – Started Reading
April 6, 2013 – Shelved as: aww2013
May 11, 2013 – Finished Reading

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