Do you love a good mystery? Me too! You’ll love Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. I must warn you though, that you may not like the ending of the book.Picnic at Hanging Rock: A Novel
But that’s one of the reasons why you’ll love the book. The best books create strong emotional responses in their readers. And if you’re an active reader, like I am, you’ll find yourself inside the story, saying your piece.
Below, you’ll find my summary of Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. I really enjoyed reading the book!
How I Was Introduced to Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
I first learned about Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay while I was researching books to read for the first Virtual Literary World Tour when my mother died. I came across a list of the 100 best books of all time, and I was ecstatic, but when I went through the list, my enthusiasm dampened because the list was not as diverse as I’d like.
I randomly started researching the best books from a variety of countries, and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay was on “50 Must Read Australian Novels (The Popular Vote)”. If you are looking for a great mystery to read, this book is for you.
UPDATE: First Published September 2015
Hello friends, as someone who’s found themselves at this blog post, can we safely assume you want to discover the 50 Must Read Australian Novels? Perhaps you’re interested in Australia’s Favourite Authors? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Over the past several years, Booktopia’s reader polls have unearthed the country’s most loved writers, both…
Why Read Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
Over the past year, people have been talking about The Girl on the Train, which I didn’t like very much, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which I liked a lot. But there are many mysteries written a long time ago that are worth the read and would delight newer audiences.
Have you read
Picnic at Hanging Rock and Strangers on a Train are two such books, why don’t you give them a read and let me know what you think.
“Picnic at Hanging Rock is a 1975 Australian mystery film directed by Peter Weir, adapted from the novel of the same name. It premiered at the Hindley Cinema Complex in Adelaide, South Australia on 8 August 1975.
It became one of the first Australian films to reach an international audience, receiving international acclaim and commercial popularity, and thus has an important place in both cinematic and Australian history. On a beautiful summer’s day, a party of virginal Australian schoolgirls from an exclusive finishing school giddily prepare for an excursion to Hanging Rock, a magnificent natural monument drenched in a mysterious atmosphere.
The girls gain permission to explore the upper slopes of the rock. Edith takes a nap and wakes to discover that the other three girls have removed their shoes and stockings and have resumed their trek as if in a dream, disappearing into a passageway in the rock itself.
What eerie events took place that day, and will those involved ever rid themselves of the demons that the ill fated picnic unearthed? Based on the classic novel by Joan Lindsay, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ is both sublimely spooky and majestically beautiful, boasting visually hypnotic photography by Oscar winner Russell Boyd, a haunting score by Bruce Smeaton and the timeless ethereal beauty of Anne Louise Lambert as Miranda, this classic helped revive the Australian film industry and established Director Peter Weir as a major international talent. Read more …“
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What is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay About?
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay is set in Australia, where their seasons are different from the West. The story starts off on Valentine’s Day – February 14th – which is the summertime in Australia. Some of the girls at Appleyard College, a boarding school for girls, are excited about Valentine’s Day, and a few of them have lovely cards, which they display for everyone to see.
The headmistress gives permission to some of the girls to go on a picnic at Hanging Rock. She warns them to be careful while they are on the outing, which is significant in the story.
“Once again let me remind you that the Rock itself is extremely dangerous and you are therefore forbidden to engage in any tomboy foolishness in the matter of exploration, even on the lower slopes. It is, however, a geological marvel on which you will be required to write a brief essay on Monday morning.”
The book is a gothic mystery that deals with class and racial discrimination. Europeans are colonizing Australia, but are having a difficult time connecting with the natural landscape where they are settling. Man tries to master nature, but find her to be a very harsh mistress.
Widowed Mrs. Appleyard, a very proper, British woman, moves to Australia after her husband dies. She opens an exclusive boarding school for girls – she runs the school with an iron fist. She doesn’t treat all the girls as equals. In fact, she is downright mean to some of them, tolerating them because of the money she receives for boarding fees. Mrs. Appleyard doesn’t like orphan Sara Waybourne, refusing to allow her to go on the picnic to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine’s Day because she is unable to recite the lines of “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”
Sara Waybourne has to endure solitary confinement upstairs, while the others get to enjoy themselves on an outing.
Twenty-three students and two governesses set off to their picnic at Hanging Rock. Mr. Hussey, a very capable coach driver is charged with taking the girls to Hanging Rock. The coach driver has very dependable horses – he can always rely on them without question.
“So Mr. Hussey, in the best of holiday tempers, guided the five bay horses out of the known dependable present and into the unknown future, with the same happy confidence with which he daily negotiated the narrow gates of the Macedon Livery Stables and his own backyard.”
Although Mrs. Appleyard warns the girls about the dangers of Hanging Rock, and beg them to be extra careful, teenagers have a mind of their own. And often believe that they are unstoppable. Marion Quade, Irma Leopold, Miranda, and Edith decide to explore the landscape.
On their way, they pass Hon. Mike Fitzhubert, a Brit, who is visiting his Uncle, and Albert Waybourne, a native, two unlikely friends from different economic classes. The section in Picnic at Hanging Rock that describes the girls’ exploration of their environment has a supernatural feel to it. Joan Lindsay writes about the girls sliding over stones. They seem like they are in a daze after they awake from a deep sleep.
Marion, Irma and Miranda embrace the landscape and disappear into it, while Edith rejects it and remain unscathed. Edith cannot explain what happened to the three girls, it’s as if someone tampered with her memory. Constable Bumpher, Jim Grant, a young police officer, and a black tracer (the only direct mention of an Aborigine) and a bloodhound search for the girls and Greta McCraw, one of the governesses, who also disappears in another section of the picnic grounds.
The four people seem to have vanished without a trace, which doesn’t bode well for Mrs. Appleyard and her school. In this time of great sadness, her prejudices are alive and well.
“Marion Quade, a brilliant scholar, though not as wealthy like the other two, could be counted on for academic laurels, almost equally important in their way. Why couldn’t it have been Edith who had disappeared, or that little nobody Blanche, or Sara Waybourne? As usual, the very thought of Sara Waybourne was an irritant. Those great saucer eyes, holding a perpetual unspoken criticism intolerable in a child of thirteen…”
The girls’ disappearance haunts Mike Fitzhubert.
“Mike was staring out at the shining disc of the lake. He said slowly: ‘As far as I am concerned, it’s not the end of it. I wake up in cold sweat every night wondering if they’re still alive dying of thirst somewhere on that infernal Rock at this very minute … while you and I [Albert] are sitting here drinking cold beer.”
Surprisingly, Mike has a hunch about where to search the picnic grounds, and taking Albert with him, they go in search of the lost girls. Joan Lindsay’s writing is very visual and the reader can picture what’s going on every step of the way. While Mike and Albert head to Hanging Rock, following up on Mike’s hunch, this is what the reader sees along the way.
“The rich volcanic soil on which roses glowed all summer long with an almost tropical brilliance was watered by innumerable mountain streams, cunningly deployed – here a ferny grotto, there a pool of goldfish spanned by a rustic bridge, a tea-house above a miniature waterfall. Mike was enchanted by this strangely favoured country where palms, delphiniums and raspberry canes grow side by side. No wonder his uncle hated returning to Melbourne at the end of summer.”
That section of the story also has a supernatural feel as well because he finds Irma on the rock, which had already been searched by the police, tracker and bloodhound. Although when Irma is found unconscious, she appears physically whole, but her mind is never quite the same again. And she is unable to tell exactly what happened to her and the other girls. It seems very spooky to me how the landscape accepts Marion and Miranda, yet rejects Irma. The girls and the teacher are never seen again, and there is no evidence of foul play.
To describe Hanging Rock, here is a quote:
“Directly ahead, the Hanging Rock floated in splendid isolation on a sea of pale grass, in full sunlight its jagged peaks and pinnacles even more sinister than the hideous caves of Mike’s recurring nightmares.”
There is also a mystery surrounding Sara Waybourne, who doesn’t realize that she has any options. She has a caring guardian, Jasper Cosgrove, but he is far removed from the happenings of Appleyard College. Sara seems to bring out a fierce anger inside of Mrs. Appleyard, and she dies in the story, but the reader is not clear if Mrs. Appleyard murders her or drives her to commit suicide. What the reader is certain of, is the story that Mrs. Appleyard concocts about Sara’s guardian taking her away.
Should You Buy Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay?
There are a series of very unfortunate incidents in the book, which makes it a great read. Although I enjoyed Picnic at Hanging Rock, I also found it uncomfortable to read. As a visible minority, I am sensitive to racial discrimination. I recommend Picnic at Hanging Rock!