Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Ode to Picnic At Hanging Rock

This is is. I've reached Blog 100 and to celebrate, I'm talking about one of my favourite books of all time

Picnic at Hanging Rock. The title alone evokes a sense of awe in me. A book, written in the seventies and made into a movie around the same time, still has the power to shock me at its nature.

I was in my early teens when my mother introduced me to the book, a battered second hand copy that she’d found in a Salvation Army store. I read it within a day, caught up in the mystery of the missing schoolgirls in rural Victoria. It was a story that had an ending, but not a conclusion, something that I would carry into my own writings later on in life. It has in fact, become a bigger influence on my writing than I first realised.
My own style is over-descriptive, pulling my readers into the worlds of my characters, and I prefer to write stories where the conclusion is only one of many possibilities, leaving the reader wondering what’s going on.
Back when Joan Lindsay first wrote the book, there was a final chapter that explained what had happened to the missing girls, along with why Irma was left behind. On her publisher’s advice, she left that chapter out of the final draft of the book, that would them go on to become a best-seller, loved by many.
That final chapter was later released in novella form, titled “The Secret of Hanging Rock”, a book that is impossible to find, even with the internet at our fingertips.
I’ve read it once, I was lucky enough to find it at my local library and I read it before it became lost in the library system never to be found again… Little bit spooky, huh? I have to admit, I wasn’t one-hundred percent happy with the conclusion, though it did give me an answer to those niggling questions I had. And because it was written by Lindsay, it couldn’t be disputed as false later on. I won’t discuss here what happened in the missing chapter, leaving it to the reader’s imagination seems better.
What might have happened if the book, in its entirety had been published? Would there have been a movie made out of it? If the movie had been made, would it have been the success it was? Would it still evoke feelings of awe, unease and wonder at the potential fates of the characters.

1 comment:

  1. You seem to accept the thesis that it was Lindsay who wrote that so-called "18th chapter". Why, I dare ask?

    I found that "missing chapter" terribly disappointing. Those who believe that this '18th chapter' was actually written by Joan Lindsay accept the chapter's lacking quality as the reason why Lindsay and her publisher rejected it. But I take the chapter's lacking quality as an indication that Lindsay may not have written it at all, and that the chapter may be a sham. A hoax, as so many literary & artistic hoaxes and false attributions before.

    Thus, I challenge anyone to deliver convincing evidence that the 'missing chapter', published as 'The Secret of Hanging Rock', was actually written by Joan Lindsay.

    I do not believe that it is, and find it troubling that so many people take it as a fact only because the publisher made us believe that it is. A publisher with clear commercial interests in the popularity of the book and the film.

    I find it suspect that the chapter bluntly reveals what Lindsay intentionally kept hidden in the previous 17 chapters, and that 'The Secret' was only published after Lindsay's death - so she was not around anymore to refute its authenticity.

    To my knowledge, there is no material proof for the assumption, just hearsay. There is no manuscript, no diary entry, no civil law notary who acknowledges that Lindsay personally transferred the copyrights from Mrs. Lindsay to Mr. John Taylor (of the editor's house Cheshires), no 'last will' in which Lindsay states that she wanted the 'missing chapter' to be published three years after her death.

    On the contrary. Lindsay herself was a firm and vocal advocate of an open ending to 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. In an interview on the Criterion DVD edition, Mrs. Lindsay can be heard and seen stating that she finds it 'an extraordinary thing to me that people are not content to leave it as a mystery', that she 'wrote the story as a mystery', that it 'will remain a mystery' and that a solution would only 'spoil the mystery'. She also says that the book is 'atmospheric' and not in the least a 'whodunnit' with a concrete solution. She explicitly refers to Henry James 'Turn of the screw', a book that is also renowned for being open-ended.

    Lindsay's statement her should not be taken as 'proof' that she had changed her mind about her novel, and that she once wanted the book to have a 'closed ending' in an 18th chapter. That would amount to a circular reasoning.

    To me it seems that this book indeed delivers yet another 'secret' to the Hanging Rock business, and the secret is that Lindsay never wrote this so-called 'missing chapter'. Anyone who believes it is, should worry about the absence of convincing proof for their assumption.

    It is high time an Australian literary researcher or PhD did some thorough philological and biographical inquiry into the material genesis of that 'missing chapter'. My guess is that the sham will be revealed, and another guess is that the editor has to do with it, along with some ghost writer who got his/her share of the profit.