I chose Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay as my read for the Back to the Classics 2017 Challenge category “Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit”. I have never been to Australia and probably never will visit given the expense and the distance but I have long been interested in it as both a country and a landscape. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fiction, but Hanging Rock is a real volcanic rock formation located in Victoria, Australia.
The story features the students and teachers of a girl’s boarding school located a few miles from Hanging Rock, a popular local attraction for day trips and outings. As the book opens on Valentine’s Day 1900, the girls and two of the teachers are preparing to go for a picnic at the rocks. Later, however, party turns tragic, when three girls and one teacher go missing. This mysterious event affects not only the remaining staff and students but also two young men who happened to also be at Hanging Rock that days; some of the ripple effects are quite terrible, while others are quite providential.
This is a very short book (198 pages in the pictured Penguin edition I read) and it is structured as a faux-history/ true crime format which I found interesting. In particular, the ambiguity in the book really worked for me and the lush, atmospheric writing was a pleasure to ponder and digest. I think there is a lot of subtext in the book, for the reader who cares to look for it. I was especially drawn to the author’s depiction of the natural world as something independent and uncaring of humans, but always present and threatening. However, there is an actual “ending” to the book which was cut from the manuscript when the book was first published in 1967 which somewhat takes away the ambiguity I so enjoyed and definitely pushes the book in to speculative fiction territory.
There is also a really good film of Picnic at Hanging Rock directed by Peter Wier. It is pretty good, as I recall; very atmospheric and creepy.