Wednesday 14 August 2013

Picnic at Hanging Rock

I wasn't really sure whether I had read this book before or not. It's such a very famous story in Australia of course, and there was that movie in the 70s so that I do have some memory of people wandering in the bush calling "Miranda, Miranda", but wasn't sure whether that notion had come from seeing the movie or reading the book. I do feel reasonably sure now that I hadn't read this rather sensational book before.

A group of girls at a boarding school in rural Victoria go for a picnic to Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day 1900, some never to return. Joan Lindsay toys with us from the very outset:

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves.

Most of the book is actually the time after the picnic, after the disappearances. The rumours, the speculation, the gossip, the fallout from a single day. All written in a wonderful way, a beautiful Edwardian language, with a tremendous sense of humour and fun.

The boarders at Mrs Appleyard's College for Young Ladies had been up and scanning the bright unclouded sky since six o'clock and were now fluttering about in their holiday muslins like a flock of excited butterflies. 
A pasty-faced fourteen-year-old with the contours of an overstuffed bolster was standing a few feet away, staring up at the window of a room on the first floor.

I can certainly see why Picnic at Hanging Rock made it into the top 10 Aussie Books You Should Read Before You Die. It's a stonking good read. It's historical fiction, it's a mystery, it's a character study, it's incredibly descriptive. Often lyrical.

And there was God Himself in a red and blue glass window- a terrifying old man rather like his grandfather, the Earl of Haddingham, sitting on a cloud and interfering with everyone down below. Punishing the wicked, caring for the sparrows fallen from their nests in the park, keeping an eye on the Royal Family in their various palaces, saving- or allowing to be shipwrecked according to whim- 'Those In Peril On The Sea'... Finding and Saving, or allowing to perish, the lost schoolgirls on the Hanging Rock.

I will look forward to rereading this one. And watching the movie for the first time this century. I wonder why it isn't on tv terribly often? But first I'm going to search out the mysterious Chapter 18, the unpublished final chapter and read that too.



Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I thought this was a fascinating read. Very rich.

And now I, too, must seek out the missing final chapter and the movie.

Jeanie said...

I'm embarrassed to say I don't know this book although the title sounds familiar. Thanks for the recommendation!

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

What a wonderful review of this book. I just checked to make sure that it is available in the USA. Yes, and it just went on my list.


skiourophile said...

I've not read the missing chapter either - it came out well after I had read it. I wonder if I should revisit...? It's certainly a must read piece of Australiana.

Hannes Minkema said...

If I were you, I woulnd't care about that so-called "missing chapter". It is most likely a hoax, a sham. Like so many literary hoaxes and false attributions before.

Not a shred of material evidence has been presented for te thesis that Joan Lindsay actually wrote that chapter. No manuscript, no annotated typoscript. No transfer of rights to her publisher, no last will in which Lindsay states she wants the "missing chapter" to be published after her death.

The only basis for the hoax is hearsay, and more hearsay. From the same publisher who claims that Lindsay give him these publishing rights.

Thing is, that publisher did not show up with that "18th chapter" (which terribly deviates in quality and style from the original novel) until three years after Lindsay's deat - when she was not around anymore to refute its authenticity.

Lindsay herself was a vocal and fierce advocate of her novel being 'open-ended, and written as open-ended' and that it was no 'whodunnit' to which there was only one solution. So the contents of "The Secret of Hanging Rock" are in direct opposition from what Lindsay had herself said, time and again, about her novel.

So I would advise you to not fall for this probable hoax, to read the novel as it is, and create your own response to it.

Brona said...

Don't read the missing chapter!

The original ending is sooooo much better, the missing chapter adds nothing - if anything it only detracts.
Fortunately I have forgotten everything about the missing chapter, so my only memories are around the original story and movie :-)

The movie is now terribly dated - some of the acting by the secondary characters is truly atrocious, but ohhhh that pan pipe music! The flowing white dresses, the plaintiff cry "Miranda, Miranda!" that will haunt us all forver!!

Louise said...

Hannes and Brona. Sadly I was too curious and I did read that missing chapter. I didn't like it, and think the book is much better without it. I also hunted out the movie and watched it again. I should have left it in the 70s with my memories! The acting is terrible, those pan pipes are haunting, and I will never forget "Miranda, Miranda".