In this, the last of Thomas Mann's novels, we see him relaxing, letting his hair down, so to speak. Gone are the philosophical debates of Magic Mountain, the complicated musical discussions of Doctor Faustus, and even the attitude toward decline and decay from Buddenbrooks. This is a book about Felix Krull, a young man who learns early on that life is what he wants it to be. He becomes a 'confidence man,' someone who changes his name frequently and acts in a 'role' of an identity not his own.
The intriguing thing about Krull is that he is every bit the artist. He is an actor through and through, so good at his trade that he actually becomes (even in his own mind) the character he is portraying. The only difference is that his stage is the world at large. Throughout Felix's early years he deceives various people, steals from a couple of them, takes advantage of others. But Felix is not your typical conman. He seems not to want to hurt anyone, and often goes out of his way to be fair to people. The schemes he does pull he does not consider to be necessarily wrong--in fact, he sees himself acting in an acceptable way. His justification for this is that he is made of 'finer clay' than other people.
In Felix we see many of Mann's other characters--Hans Castorp (in his education at the museum in Lisbon), Tonio Kroger (in his musings on the price and toll of being an artist), even Christian or Hanno Buddenbrook in a sense (what they may have been under other circumstances, without familial pressure). Certainly, anyone familiar with Mann's works will notice that most of the themes of this book are familiar, and have been used in other works as well. There really is nothing groundbreaking in Felix Krull--it is rather an enjoyable novel, especially for fans of Mann, that is easy to read and has some good insights in it. It is not his best work, but it is certainly worth the time to read it.