Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was first published in 1967 and has since been republished a few times. The copy I read was published by Vintage in 1998. It’s a novella of 189 pages, with a list of characters at the beginning followed by a note, that indicates the truth of the story it tells is in question:

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important.

On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, a party of nineteen girls accompanied by two schoolmistresses sets off from the elite Appleyard College for Young Ladies, for a day’s outing at the spectacular volcanic mass called Hanging Rock. The picnic, which begins innocently and happily, ends in explicable terror, and some of the party never returned. What happened to them remains a mystery.

I enjoyed it immensely. I love the detailed descriptions of the Australian countryside and the picture it paints of society in 1900, with the snobbery and class divisions of the period. It’s a hot day, the picnic at the base of Hanging Rock shaded from the heat by two or three spreading gums was going well, and while some of the party dozed in the sunshine four of the girls walked to the Rock to get a closer view. As they walked up to the pinnacles and crags the plain below came into sight, but infinitely vague and distant and a rather curious sound was coming up from the plain, like the beating of far off drums. They neared a monolith rising up in front of them and:

Suddenly overcome by an overpowering lassitude, all four girls flung themselves down on the gently sloping rock in the shelter of the monolith, and there fell into a sleep so deep that a horned lizard emerged from a crack to lie without fear in the hollow of Miranda’s outflung arm.

Nobody had noticed that one of the teacher had also left the picnic. The day ended dramatically when one of the girls ran screaming down to the plain, back to the picnic grounds. She had left the other three girls ‘somewhere up there’, but she had no idea where that was. Despite lengthy searches only one girl was found and she couldn’t remember what had happened. It was all very strange. There’s an eerie feeling hanging over the whole event – during the picnic two of the adults found that their watches had stopped at twelve o’clock and they had no idea of the time. It was as though time had been suspended.

It’s a deceptively simple story, but with so many layers and undercurrents, making this mysteriously compelling reading. All the characters are believable people, each with their own backstories, and all their lives are affected and changed by the events of that one day. There’s a dreamlike quality to the mystery and a suspicion of the supernatural surrounding it. I loved the ambiguity of it all.

This is a Novella in November contribution and also qualifies as an entry for AusReading Month 2021.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 12 December, 2021.

I am delighted as this just the book I wanted to read next! It was one of my 20 books of Summer, but I didn’t get round to reading it then.

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves. (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

My Friday Post: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book this week is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, one of the books I’m reading for this year’s 20 Books of Summer event. This book has been on my wishlist for years ever since I read about it on someone’s blog – sorry, I can’t remember which blog.

On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, a party of nineteen girls accompanied by two schoolmistresses sets off from the elite Appleyard College for Young Ladies, for a day’s outing at the spectacular volcanic mass called Hanging Rock. Some were never to return. The picnic, which begins innocently and happily ends in explicable terror …

It begins:

Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock – a shimmering summer morning warm and still, with cicadas shrilling all through breakfast from the loquat trees outside the dining room windows and bees murmuring above the pansies bordering the drive.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

The police, said Bumpher, were doing their utmost to clear up the mystery and in his opinion and that of Detective Lugg, it was essential that Edith as a key witness should be confronted with the actual scene as a spur to memory.

There’s an intriguing note at the beginning of the book:

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year nineteen hundred, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important.

Back to Barter Books!

On Tuesday I went Barter Books in Alnwick (this is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves). The last time I went there was in January 2020. Since the pandemic began I’ve only been out to a few places and not been around many people at all, so I was a bit nervous.

These are the books I got (the descriptions are from Amazon):

After the Crash by Michel Bussi – because I’d enjoyed reading Time is a Killer by Bussi a couple of years ago.

On the night of 22 December 1980, a plane crashes on the Franco-Swiss border and is engulfed in flames. 168 out of 169 passengers are killed instantly. The miraculous sole survivor is a three-month-old baby girl. Two families, one rich, the other poor, step forward to claim her, sparking an investigation that will last for almost two decades. Is she Lyse-Rose or Emilie?

Eighteen years later, having failed to discover the truth, private detective Crédule Grand-Duc plans to take his own life, but not before placing an account of his investigation in the girl’s hands. But, as he sits at his desk about to pull the trigger, he uncovers a secret that changes everything – then is killed before he can breathe a word of it to anyone . . .

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay – this has been on my wishlist for years!

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

Fire by L C Tyler – I’ve never read any of his books. I chose it because I like historical fiction and I’m interested in the Restoration period, having read Andrew Taylor’s Marwood and Lovett series also set in the same period. Fire is the fourth book in the John Grey Historical Mystery series.

1666. London has been destroyed by fire and its citizens are looking for somebody, preferable foreign, to blame. Only the royal Court, with its strong Catholic sympathies, is trying to dampen down the post-conflaguration hysteria. Then, inconveniently, a Frenchman admits to having started it together with an accomplice, whom he says he has subsequently killed.

John Grey is tasked by Secretary of State, Lord Arlington, with proving conclusively that the self-confessed fire-raiser is lying. Though Grey agrees with Arlington that the Frenchman must be mad, he is increasingly perplexed at how much he knows. And a body has been discovered that appears in every way to match the description of the dead accomplice.

Grey’s investigations take him and his companion, Lady Pole, into the dangerous and still smoking ruins of the old City. And somebody out there – somebody at the very centre of power in England – would prefer it if they didn’t live long enough to conclude their work…

The Librarian by Salley Vickers – I’ve read a few of Salley Vickers’ books and enjoyed them, especially  Miss Garnet’s Angel and Mr Golightly’s Holiday, which I read before I began this blog.

In 1958, Sylvia Blackwell, fresh from one of the new post-war Library Schools, takes up a job as children’s librarian in a run down library in the market town of East Mole.

Her mission is to fire the enthusiasm of the children of East Mole for reading. But her love affair with the local married GP, and her befriending of his precious daughter, her neighbour’s son and her landlady’s neglected grandchild, ignite the prejudices of the town, threatening her job and the very existence of the library with dramatic consequences for them all.

The Librarian is a moving testament to the joy of reading and the power of books to change and inspire us all.

There was a queue outside when I got there as entry to the bookshop is limited to a maximum of about sixty people at a time to ensure enough space for social distancing. Although I was pleased to be able to go to Barter Books again, there were too many people there for me, especially around the counter and the crime fiction bookcases near the counter. So I didn’t linger and went to back of the main hall, which is the largest room in the shop where there were only a few people browsing the shelves. Even so I felt nervous, so once I’d found four books I decided it was time for me to leave. I’ve never been comfortable in crowds, even before the pandemic.