Saturday, November 21, 2015

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

This novel satisfies square O3 of 2015 Classics Bingo: Classic of Asia or Oceania (Australia to be precise). It is not part of my 100 Greatest Novels Quest.

I was fairly excited about reading this – the synopsis from Goodreads intrigued me:

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

I’m a puzzle solver professionally, so I was ready for a good mystery. Lindsay created some marvelous characters, and I was captivated early. I read through this quickly as I was thoroughly enjoying it – and then – the ending.

SPOILER ALERT – The following contains a spoiler

Though I don’t know how I could spoil it, when reading the novel doesn’t even spoil the ending. The mystery is never solved. The reader isn’t presented differing plausible solutions to choose from. There isn’t a hint of a suspect…because there isn’t a hint of a crime. There isn’t really a hint of an accident either, though that is the most likely explanation.

To be blunt, I felt cheated. I’ve read other novels that leave you wondering, but this didn’t even leave me wondering – just huh – never found em.

I did like some little snippets of thoughtful prose that Lindsay, the omniscient narrator, put in now and then amongst the dialogue or third person narrative.

Although we are necessarily concerned, in a chronicle of events, with physical action by the light of the 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 flowering breed peace and war, loves and hates, the crowning or uncrowning of heads.

Or in describing the life altering consequences of what we may deem insignificant acts:  Just as he himself by a few casual words this morning had effectively shaped the destinies of Tom and Minnie, so had Irma’s father, in a moment of generous impulse, altered the entire course of Albert’s life. It is probably just as well for our nervous equilibrium that such cataclysms of personal fortune are usually disguised as ordinary everyday occurrences, like the choice of boiled or poached eggs for breakfast.

And Lindsay creates some fabulous characters, and I could almost consider this a character driven novel, except – there is a plot, a maddeningly captivating plot, that is not brought to any kind of closure.

One other little thing that amused me. At one point the narrative mentions that Easter is approaching and later the same paragraph speaks of autumn. That threw me for a second. Then I remembered – Down Under.

So, some beautiful prose, marvelous characters but meh. I’m sure there is a better choice I could have made for an Australian classic; I’m not a fan of Picnic at Hanging Rock.


  1. I refrained from reading the spoiler, but appreciate your review for its thoroughness and honesty. Even more intrigued to read it now! :)

  2. One of the reasons I've put off reading this book is because I know the ending. The movie wasn't great either.

    1. Glad I'm not the only one. Back when I was excited about the book, I was also excited about watching the film, but then the ending put me off, plus I watched a trailer for the film and it looked sort of awful. Oh well...I checked the box (the BINGO square to be precise). Thanks for the feedback Carol.


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