Reading Down Under

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging Rock is quite a famous Australian novel, bordering almost into the rare realm of the Australian Classic novel. It features one of the most stunning land marks of Australia and certainly it’s most famous naturally occurring one.
The story revolves around an all girls boarding school and a tragic school picnic which ends in the loss of three girls and a teacher. One is eventually found but this only serves to heighten the intrigue and scandal that begins to become associated with both the case and the school.
The most interesting thing I discovered about this book is that it is in no way a mystery novel; in as much as this is not a mystery that is ever solved. The point of this book is not to be a Victorian drama where all the loose ends are tied up incredibly neatly (as was the case with Victorian novels in England). This story is, instead, about how dangerous Australia can be to the foolish English person who takes it’s nature for granted: the pampered English School girls, the Mathematics teacher who insists upon it being no different to Scotland, the young Michael who has only just arrived and even the strict headmistress, all of these characters underestimate this alien country and carry on as if they were in a Jane Austin novel. To this end the abrupt answer-less ending is a testament to the country, unforgiving and brutal to those who wander in unawares. I see no mistake in the fact that those characters who are the happiest are also those who approach everything with a large degree of common sense, those who are at once marked out as Australian or practical. The only exception to this is one of the girls who is lost, who is apparently raised in the bush yet still vanishes on Hanging Rock without a trace.
This novel is not the kind that I would normally enjoy – the normal tales of victorian-esque women have been forced upon me many times before – but the darkness beneath the story and it’s ambiguity (so many apparent clues are thrown in but never referred to again) make it a chilling read. Made me nervous as an English visitor!


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