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Old 02-11-2019, 01:18 PM   #1
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Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

'In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others...'

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Discussion sections are an encouragement to keep those reading on a more similar timeline and perhaps foster more discussion. These are only softly recommended however and not required at all. Anyone can discuss any part or aspect of the selection at any time.

Recommended discussion timeframe starts for approximately 202 pages divided into four quarters-

The first quarter, pages 1-51: immediately

The second quarter, pages 52-101: Monday the 18th of February

The third quarter, pages 102-152: Monday the 25th of February

The fourth quarter, pages 153-202: Monday the 4th of March


This is the MR Literary Club selection for February 2019. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!


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Old 02-11-2019, 02:59 PM   #2
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I'm very excited to finally read this. Some of you may know but this is one of my all-time favourite films and I've wanted to read the book forever. I have a few various tidbits that may be of interest:

-It's been awhile since I've read this and I'm avoiding reading up on it again until I've read the book, but the gist is that one final chapter was left out of the book. It was later published, so anyone who wants can also read the chapter not part of the actual book, but that's all I'll say for now to avoid any spoilers at this early date in the discussion.

-I was surprised to learn that Lindsay was in her 60s when writing this book and had only written a few books before this. This would place her as being a very young girl around the time of the events.

-I read a book called The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides which I've always thought had a very similar feel to (the film of) Picnic at Hanging Rock. I wouldn't be surprised if Eugenides was inspired by Lindsay.

-There are many adaptations of this book. Of course there's the famous 1970s film. There's the new mini-series starring Natalie Dormer who may also be familiar to some as Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones. There are two original (separately written) plays of it and also a musical adaptation.

-I've seen the book's genre described variously as mystery, historical fiction and even Australian gothic.

-Here are some pics of Hanging Rock: 1 2 3 4 5
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Old 02-11-2019, 07:04 PM   #3
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sun surfer, some of those images point to a location in the Blue Mountains of NSW (eg 2 and 5). The location of the book is in the Macedon Ranges of Victoria, see the Wikipedia article. Much less dramatic in appearance but a pleasant place for a picnic - yes, I've picnicked at Hanging Rock. (Actually, I really like it around Macedon, and close to some great wineries.)
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Old 02-12-2019, 02:38 PM   #4
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Thanks for the info, gmw; it's great to have someone in the thread who's been there and knows the area! It's rather confusing then because when I google image search 'hanging rock' a large amount of the images are of the rock in 2 & 5, including the first result, and both 2 & 5 have 'hanging rock' as part of their url addresses.
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Old 02-17-2019, 03:36 PM   #5
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This turned out to be the perfect month to read this. I’d forgot that the picnic takes place on Valentine’s Day, and I actually began reading this on Valentine’s Day. It’s always an interesting feeling when you unexpectedly realise what you’re reading takes place close to the same day of year as when you’re reading, especially when it’s the exact same day! I’ve had it happen a few times before though this may be the first time it was the exact same day.
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Old 02-23-2019, 11:45 AM   #6
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I agree. February was the perfect month to read this book. Here is an interesting fact. Joan Lindsay and her artist husband, Daryl Lindsay, were married on Valentine’s Day in 1922. The day held an extra-special meaning to her.
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Old 02-23-2019, 05:46 PM   #7
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I have not got to Picnic at Hanging Rock for a couple of days but I am 60% through it and finding it an enjoyable read - glad to have got into it. The country's many little and varied critters get a nice lot of mentions too.

I have a liking for Australian novels (not that I have managed to fit many in among all my other reading) as opposed to NZ ones among which I have not found one yet that I have really persevered with. So started on a good footing as far as expectations were concerned with Picnic...

Is an interesting comment regarding Joan Lindsay and her marriage on Valentine's Day giving more special meaning to her as that infers that Valentine's Day was a recognized day way back then in Australia. I don't recall ever being in Australia on Valentine's Day so I really have no idea how it is celebrated there now.

Unless I have missed something, here in NZ it is different and it has really only been the last few decades, maybe, that much has been made of Valentine's Day at all. When my wife and I married I don't think I had even heard of Valentine's Day and as far as I know my wife had not either (which may have been a lucky break for me ). Retailers try to push it a bit now but as far as I know among our family and friends no one makes any special effort towards it - certainly nothing like the standing of Mother's and Father's Day, for example.

EDIT: It does occur to me that maybe the recognition of Valentine's Day has waxed and waned over time - must have a look.

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Old 02-24-2019, 07:41 AM   #8
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It's been years since I read this, and have not had a chance to re-read it for good discussion here, but I do have a few thoughts that seem relevant:

I am not sure at what point I became aware that this was not a true story, but I am fascinated at how well this myth has survived - to the extent that people still claim to find the location mysterious or creepy*. For something that started as an arguably cynical marketing suggestion that the author went along with, it has become an enduring legend that has drawn a lot of money and fame to the location in Victoria.

I was not a big fan of either the book or the movie, but my memory is that the (1975) movie did a good job of capturing atmosphere of the book. It may be that I would be more open to the atmosphere created by the book now than I was as a younger reader.

The name "Hanging Rock" makes for a good title, it's a shame the actual hanging rock at Mount Diogenes is difficult to photograph for dramatic effect - which is why you almost never see it.


* I think a lot of natural locations can feel mysterious, depending on a persons mood, the weather and so on. Same is true for big old empty houses. Add in a creepy story and legends emerge that can become self-sustaining. Where I grew up on the flood plains of northern Victoria there are a few outcrops of granite similar to (but much smaller and more-isolated than) Hanging Rock. One of these my family visited regularly for picnics and my father would delight in telling us kids the stories he learned, when he was growing up in the area, of how one huge cliff-face became known as "Suicide Rock".
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Old 02-24-2019, 05:41 PM   #9
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...I am not sure at what point I became aware that this was not a true story, but I am fascinated at how well this myth has survived...
I am not sure how I became aware of the book but someone must have recommended it to me; when I got it a couple of years ago and was trying to find out more about it I got the impression that the myth had well overtaken the book.

When I started reading it I found that to get most from it I had to set my mind to the book being a pure fictional novel and nothing else, otherwise it started coming across to me as a not so good attempt at a historical novel.
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Old 02-24-2019, 06:37 PM   #10
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I'm wondering if a lot of readers back then (myself included, perhaps) assumed that fiction would have had a resolution, ergo this must have been based on fact. Whatever the cause, cutting the last chapter turned into a remarkably effective ploy. It became a talking point, even for those that objected to it, and getting people talking about a book or movie is always a good thing.
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Old 03-09-2019, 06:09 PM   #11
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I enjoyed the book, although I wouldn't think it to be a masterpiece. It seemed to me to be a bit dislocated in some way, but not concerning enough to try and analyze why.

Nice to see the many and varied Australian critters having a place in the story, often tightly packed into a couple of sentences:

So they walk silently towards the lower slopes, in single file, each locked in the private world of her own perceptions, unconscious of the strains and tensions of the molten mass that hold it anchored to the groaning earth: of the creakings and shudderings, the wandering airs and currents known only to the wise little bats, hanging upside down in its clammy caves. None of them see or hear the snake dragging its copper coils over the stones ahead. Nor the panic exodus of spiders, grubs and woodlice from rotting leaves and bark. There are no tracks on this part of the Rock. Or if there ever have been tracks, they are long since obliterated. It is a long long time since any living creature other than an occasional rabbit or wallaby trespassed upon its arid breast.

The story did come across to me as a whodunit without a whodidit.

My next venture into Australian "literature" is John O'Grady's (pen name Nino Culotta) comedy "They're a Weird Mob" which I last enjoyed in hardback a few (or even more than a few ) decades ago (but sometimes comedy doesn't last).
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Old 03-09-2019, 09:07 PM   #12
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I am so far behind. I have been swamped with work and not able to read ebooks at all. I am about 70% through and still not sure where the story is headed. That's good though that it's still a mystery. I do like the writing though - the imagery with the sights and sounds of the animals in addition to the atmosphere and weather details - help to contribute to the suspense and emotional response.

Interesting analysis, Anothercat. I will post more when I finish. Thanks for sharing your next adventure!

Your comments earlier about Valentine's Day were a surprise to me. I did not know that people in other English-speaking countries did not take the day so seriously and it was more a recent commercial development. When I was a kid, we decorated boxes in school and everyone bought mini-cards to school to put in the boxes. It was a big deal every year to pick out what theme cards you were going to give away (like with popular cartoon characters, I mean). Also, I know in the Victorian era they had some beautiful artistic cards. It is fun to do an internet search and look at the images. I used to keep some of the images as my screensaver on my old Sony 350 reader.

A positive bonus - I have learned many Australian slang words that I had to look up in the dictionary.

EDIT: I also meant to add that I did an internet search on Valentine's Day traditions across the globe and it was fun reading. They are so varied. And many celebrate on totally different days - it's not a universal February 14th thing.

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Old 03-13-2019, 01:35 AM   #13
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The story did come across to me as a whodunit without a whodidit.
I should be finishing up the book by the weekend. Do you think it was the right or wrong decision by the publisher to eliminate the last chapter? This is a question in my mind as I near the end.

I was surprised to find that the last chapter was eventually published in 1987 (after her death, I think?).

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Joan Lindsay's best-selling novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is a subtle blend of mysterious and sinister events set in a period drawn with loving nostalgia. The final chapter of the novel was removed at the request of her publishers, creating a mystery to which thousands have begged to know the solution. Published now for the first time, the missing chapter reveals what did happen to the schoolgirls who vanished from the Rock after a St Valentine's Day picnic in 1900.
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Old 03-13-2019, 05:14 PM   #14
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...Do you think it was the right or wrong decision by the publisher to eliminate the last chapter? This is a question in my mind as I near the end...
I have not read the claimed discarded final chapter but if the several summaries of it that I have seen are fair then for me I am glad it was discarded. It seems that it goes into strange fantastical flights of fancy of a kind outside of earthly experience, which is contrary to the reality based theme of the rest of the novel.
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Old 03-13-2019, 07:57 PM   #15
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I have not read the claimed discarded final chapter but if the several summaries of it that I have seen are fair then for me I am glad it was discarded. It seems that it goes into strange fantastical flights of fancy of a kind outside of earthly experience, which is contrary to the reality based theme of the rest of the novel.
Ditto. I suspect the book would have been long forgotten by now had it been published with its final chapter (I've only read summaries too). Not only was it a good marketing decision, but I think it also matched the mood of the story.
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