Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay review

As Valentine’s Day has just passed I wanted to do a bookish post on the topic, and I’ve spent the past couple of days racking my brain for ideas. In the end, I decided to simply do a book review on a novel that a) counts towards my goal of rereading more and b) is set on Valentine’s Day: Picnic at Hanging Rock. Between the novel, the acclaimed film directed by Peter Weir, and the recent TV adaptation most people already know the premise. Set in 1900 at Appleyard College for girls, three students and their teacher mysteriously vanish whilst on a picnic at Hanging Rock. The community, stunned by the disappearances, attempt to recover the missing women.

Lindsay deliberately blurs the line between fact and fiction, for example writing newspaper articles about the disappearances, and she does this to great effect. Whilst this is a work of fiction, it makes you question what would happen or could happen if something like this occurred in real life. Could a handful of schoolgirls simple disappear? How and why? It makes the events of the novel more disconcerting to imagine them really taking place rather than viewing them as just fictional. Lindsay also throws some intriguing plot twists into the story, always keeping the reader suspecting what happened. Having these clues dotted about makes it quite fun to try and guess what is happening, even if it seems impossible to work out.

The one criticism I have of Picnic at Hanging Rock, a problem for me on my first read and still now, is the ending. In my edition the chapter where the disappearances are solved is present, but I know it was originally published separately. Without going into spoilers, it just didn’t work for me. The open-ended original worked a lot better; leaving the readers to guess what had happened. It certainly invites a lot of discussion and speculation. But the novel, whilst centred on this mystery, felt more about the girls at Appleyard College and their relationships. Certainly, that is what I enjoyed most about the book. Lindsay captures her characters incredibly well and it a joy to watch them develop over the course of the plot. It’s also interesting to see how the mystery affects them and how their lives are impacted. They are not mentioned in the final chapter, which focuses entirely on the missing persons, which meant I wasn’t wholly invested in those last few pages. In some ways, the girls that remained were more fascinating than the ones who vanished.

With that being said, I still liked Picnic at Hanging Rock on my reread. The blurring of fact and fiction was really well-handled, and it added depth to the story. Lindsay’s writing is also very atmospheric and she creates these beautiful backdrops for the action to unfold on. Her characters as well are beautifully drawn. I just think the last chapter is unnecessary, and weakens an otherwise very strong novel. I can see why it was initially left out.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.  

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