In 1975, I saw an Australian movie, Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of the most perfect and perfectly weird films I have ever seen. The impact of this film still resonates with me, and when I was looking for another book at Powells, and noticed this, I HAD to have it. I had no idea the film was based on a book, and yet here we are. And it is every bit as freakily good as the movie as.
It begins as a standard turn of the century girl’s boarding school story. It is Valentine’s Day, and romanticism is running wild amongst the boarders. As a special treat that day, several of the older girls and two of the teachers are allowed to set off in a carriage to picnic at a park near an ancient monolith, Hanging Rock, named for its sheer and impenetrable escarpments. It is a warm day (being mid-summer in Australia), and most of the girls decide to nap after lunch. Three of the older girls, as well as a younger tag-along, set off to hike closer to the mysterious Rock instead. Oddly enough, everyone’s timepiece has seemed to have stopped, but they all figure they would know when it was time to be heading back. Except they don’t come back, only the youngest one, in wild hysterics. It’s only then that it is noticed that one of the teachers, an elderly, very straight-laced professor of mathematics, is also missing.
This could have been an ordinary mystery, and indeed, the characters in the book treat it as such, but there are the odd otherworldly clue here and there that puts it on a different level altogether. Sooooo good.
BTW, if you are reading this Penguin edition, follow the warning given and do NOT read the preface first. Lindsay’s editor got it exactly right.