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November 5, 2017

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

by Donna Huber

Have you ever wondered about the real events behind urban legends? The whole time I was reading Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay I kept thinking I'm sure this story is told around campfires to this day.
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Picnic at Hanging Rock
October 2017; Penguin Classics; 978-0143132059
ebook, audio, print (203 pages); mystery, gothic
When I did my post last April on international authors, I realized that I had couldn't think of any Australian authors that I had read. So when Penguin offered by the 50th-anniversary edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock I thought it was a great opportunity to give Australian literature a try. And what an experience it turned out to be.

It is set in 1900 Australia and focuses on a "ladies college" (really it is just a boarding school for young girls - most were 12 or 13). The story opens on Valentine's Day and the girls are off to enjoy a rare outing to nearby Hanging Rock picnic grounds. The several hours trip gives you time to get to know a little bit about the various school girls and teachers/governesses. Once there, odd things begin to occur such as watches have stopped. Lindsay's excellent descriptions provide another layer to the strangeness of the place.

Insulated from natural contacts with earth, air and sunlight, by corsets pressing on the solar plexus, by voluminous petticoats, cotton stockings and kid boots, the drowsy, well-fed girls lounging in the shade were no more a part of their environment than figures in a photograph album, arbitrarily posed against a backcloth of cork rocks and cardboard trees. p. 16

This relatively short novel, just over 200 pages, is packed with the tiniest details of people and places which is in stark contrast to the almost non-existent details of what happened to the missing girls and their mathematics instructor.

The note from the author at the beginning of the book about the reader needing to decide if this is a tale of fact or fiction gives the story an urban legend feel right from the start. The place is real. It is a distinctive geological formation in central Victoria. However, a quick Google search doesn't turn up any truth behind the missing girls story. But what Lindsay created is a legend that with the help of a movie made in 1975 is taken as almost fact. According to this article, there are life-sized dioramas set-up at the base of the rock.

I can totally see teenagers sitting around a campfire at Hanging Rock relating this story in an effort to scare their friends.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is a historical mystery or purely a work of fiction makes no difference to me because either way it is fully entertaining. If you have a camping trip planned this fall or just sitting around a bonfire, I highly recommend packing this book along.

Buy Picnic at Hanging Rock at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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