John Hersey Hersey, John (Vol. 2) - Essay

Hersey, John (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hersey, John 1914–

Hersey, an American novelist born in China, has written The Wall, The Child Buyer, Hiroshima, and other works of social consciousness. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

The Pisonian Conspiracy, the bizarre plot to assassinate Nero in 65 A.D., was, by the standards of the 1960s, the paradigm of revolution; the cadre was thoroughly committed, socially heterogeneous, and tragically ineffectual.

Out of material that even Tacitus found perplexing ("I cannot easily say who initiated the enterprise that attracted so many," he wrote in the Annals), John Hersey has constructed his finest novel to date. The Conspiracy should effectively refute Leslie Fiedler's charge that Hersey is a "pious" writer. At times, no doubt, Hersey has bled too profusely for humanity, but at least it was blood, not academic ichor….

After years of vacillating between reportage and fiction, Hersey has discovered the ideal medium for his twin talents—a novel told through a series of dispatches, intercepted letters, files, and interrogations. In the epistolary form he has found a means to transform the facts of history into compelling fiction.

Bernard F. Dick, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, March 18, 1972; used with permission), March 18, 1972, p. 74.

John Hersey is the sort of writer who always seems better at first glance than he actually turns out to be. His is a humane but pedestrian mentality linked to a mellifluous style, and while his insights are seldom particularly subtle or deep, there is no denying that they are both humane and gracefully expressed…. The Conspiracy, his eleventh novel, is no exception; indeed, it contains rather less of the embarrassing intellectual straining that has marked so much of his work in the past, perhaps exhibited at its worst (or at least most painfully obvious) in The Child Buyer….

Most of [The Conspiracy] makes good light reading. Under no circumstances should it be confused with anything else.

L. J. Davis, "The Plot to Kill Nero," in Book World (© The Washington Post), March 26, 1972, p. 4.

[John] Hersey has written a colorful, gossipy, thoroughly entertaining novel [The Conspiracy] where a writer's arrogance welded to an emperor's power makes the world reel and every other writer crave not to be in the sun but to be the sun….

While Hersey's moral may be uninspiring, his novel is so alive, so full of the whispers, the greed, the hope and the quirky nobility of even Rome's worst that it's a delight to read.

Josephine Hendin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 2, 1972, p. 6.