Picnic at Hanging Rock

I know I watched the movie version of Picnic at Hanging Rock many years ago, but I had never read the novel, written by Joan Lindsay and published in 1967. I don’t remember much of the movie beyond the general premise, so I was a bit surprised by the novel.

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Set in 1900, at a girls’ school north of Melbourne, Picnic at Hanging Rock begins with most of the girls and two of their teachers setting off to visit the famous, and rather spooky, rock formation. Three of the girls and one of the teachers climb into the rocks and vanish.

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But the novel is not really about the unexplained disappearance of the girls. It is about the effect the “College Mystery” has on everyone involved, even peripherally, from Mrs. Appleyard, the tyrannical owner and headmistress of the school, to the school servants, from a young Englishman visiting his uncle near the school to the local police constable.

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Written in a style more like the setting of 1900 than the few weeks in 1966 during which Lindsay wrote the novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock explores the ever-widening ripple effect of the disappearance. When the novel was published, and when the movie was released in 1975, publicity implied that the story was true, so effectively that many people still believe it. But whatever truth Lindsay was exploring involved not the disappearance of a group of school girls, but the interplay of human nature and reactions to something so bizarre.

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And now, of course, I’m going to have to find a copy of the original movie, and watch the Amazon Original remake (six episodes!).

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