5 / 5 Stars
Outwardly 'normal' with undercurrents of the sinister.
I recently watched an adaptation of this book, and as such, had to buy the book - I was desperate to know how the two compared!
Reading Picnic at Hanging Rock, I can see why people choose to adapt it for the screen. It is such a multi-layered book; seemingly everything is okay and as it should be on the surface, but there's so much bubbling underneath. Very clever indeed.
So, for those who haven't read it... the book centres on a school in Australia, run by Ms Appleyard, a boot-faced old biddy who doesn't seem to like anyone, much less her students. One day, the girls are taken on a picnic to Hanging Rock; a natural formation of rocks that have a lot of mystery and superstition surrounding them.
Three girls disappear, plus one teacher. Naturally, the school erupts into chaos. One girl, Edith, who accompanied the other three but made it back, can't remember a thing. One of the other teachers noticed that her watch stopped while she was there. Two boys; the posh Michael and his friend Albert, were there on the day too, and subsequently help with the search for the girls.
One of the girls, Irma, is found afterwards. Despite being out there for days, she seems in fairly good health, but has no memory of what happened. As for the other two girls and the teacher? They're never seen again.
This is what is so clever about the book - on the one level, it's a story about a tragic situation and how people react to it. But it's no much more than that. You've got the magic and mystery of the ancient aboriginal rock, and its strange juxtaposition with the prim-and-proper girls' school. The characters themselves are only distantly depicted; we never really get to know them on a personal level. It's as though they are puppets on a stage, merely acting out the roles assigned to them.
As for the mystery of the disappearance itself? I love that it's so ambiguous; that's what makes it haunting. We never find out what happened to them, but that's what's so fabulous about it. After I'd finished reading this book, I lay awake for hours going over the evidence. Clearly something supernatural was at work, I thought. But was it? That's open for interpretation too.
This book really is well worth reading because it is so different. It'll stay in your head for days afterwards!