Cheyenne Blue's Reviews > Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australian

My partner used to live near Hanging Rock. He came to Australia from Ireland as a teenager, and was immediately struck by the beauty and strangeness of the Australian Bush. He fell in love with it then, a love that never went away. He lived in Mt Macedon, a small community very close to Hanging Rock. He got his motorbike licence from the local policeman at Woodend ("Ride around the block and come back and tell me how you went." "Did you fall off? No? Good, then here's your licence.") and he lived in the rural community for many years.

He swears this book is based on truth, because people talked of it as if it were true.

I am equally sure it's a wonderful fiction from a writer's mind. Sure, there was a girl's school near Hanging Rock. And yes, mysteriously the Woodend police station burnt down and all records were destroyed, but the book is (according to Joan Lindsay) fiction. But it's so compelling, such a mysterious tale, and there are many, many people who swear it's based on reality.

What is undeniably true is that this slim book tells the tale of a classic Australian mystery. Around 1900, on a hot summer's day, girls from an academy for young women go on a picnic to Hanging Rock. Four girls and a teacher vanish. Days later, one of the girls reappears, the others are never found.

Why I love this so much is that Lindsay loved the bush. Her language is lush, poetic, somnolent in its descriptions of birds and trees and the lazy summer day. The creek rippling beside the picnic grounds, the sky, the wind, the tiny details. It's written with love. Only someone who has also fallen in love with the bush, as a thing to be loved, enjoyed, and yes, treated with a degree of caution, could write something like this. This isn't a travel guide to Australia - this is a song of understanding.

The other thing that everyone knows about "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is that originally Lindsay wrote a final chapter, which explained the girls' disappearance. Her publisher persuaded her that the book was better without this final chapter, and so for years the ending hung, an unexplained mystery. Without chapter 18, PaHR contradicts many rules of novel writing. There simply isn't any sort of satisfying ending on any level, but somehow, it works. The book is much loved, enduring, and talked about when many, possibly better, books have fallen by the way.

The final chapter was published after Lindsay's death in 1985 as a standalone short: The Secret of Hanging Rock.
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Reading Progress

February 4, 2014 – Started Reading
February 4, 2014 – Shelved
February 4, 2014 –
0.0% "Was thinking about this old classic the other day. Time for a re-read."
February 5, 2014 –
40.0% "Woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this. I'd forgotten how excellent it is."
February 10, 2014 – Shelved as: australian
February 10, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Tallulah I wanted to incorporate Lindsay's utterly beautiful descriptions of the Australian landscape into my review but I found I could never do it justice. You have though, so thank you. You're right -she writes with love, which is why it struck me so much, as someone who loves the landscape as well.


Cheyenne Blue Thank you. I believe (can't say 100% but I'm sure I read it somewhere recently) that Lindsay did live in the bush somewhere (briefly at Woodend?) and spent a lot of her time bushwalking. It really does show in her writing that she's not only writing what she loves, but what she knows, intimately.


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