Recounts the enchanted career of the con man extraordinaire Felix Krull--a man unhampered by the moral precepts that govern the conduct of ordinary people.
Many readers who come to it after Buddenbrooks or Tonio Kroeger
note the parallels Mann felt existed between the artist and
the confidence man. In Tonio Kroeger, the eponymous central
character has an encounter in his home town where he's mistaken
briefly for a con man. In the earlier story, it's an incident
full of irony. In Felix Krull, Mann turns that theme on its
head and plays it as a burlesque.
The elegance and suavity of the writing, captured well by
the Lindley translation, are both a pleasure to read, and
an analogue for the well-oiled confidence skills of the
first person narrator. It's helpful to remember that we
are being told "true confessions" by a man who has made
his way in life by taking people in.
Another feature of the work, not often commented on, is
the element of parody. Mann wrote the book with one eye,
as it were, on the great German picaresque novel by
Hans von Grimmelshausen, Simplicius Simplicisimus. Krull's
travails, talents, and successes are at times a humorous
transposition of those in Grimmelshausen's work.
Because the book was started back in 1911, and reflects on
a period 20 or more years earlier, it's a historical time
capsule of sorts. This might annoy some readers; for others,
it grants the work a certain period charm.
Finally, we should remember that the work is incomplete. This
was intended to be the first part of a full-dress fictional
memoir. Had he lived longer, Mann might have written 2 more
volumes. The result is that the book is a bright fragment rather
than a fully realized work of art.
The only reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is because toward the end, I found it got kind of boring when I thought it was about to get really interesting. It also ends abruptly, demanding a sequel, which there is not. But I won't spoil it by giving anything away.
For a good read, read Felix Krull!