Thomas Mann has, in recent years, become one of my favourite novelists, perhaps rivalling only Hermann Hesse in my estimations. The prospect of reading Confessions Of Felix Krull was an enticing one.
Confessions Of Felix Krull is essentially the "memoir" of the eponymous character. Thomas Mann apparently intended to publish several volumes, but his death prevented these plans being realised.
The story is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Felix Krull is a young man from an affluent German family. However, the family falls on hard economic times. Following his father's death, young Felix goes out into the world, to make use of his looks, his wits, his charm and his burgeoning abilities as a con-man.
Much of the early going is taken up with an exploration of Krull's formative years, and how his personality and outlook on life came about.
Some of my favourite passages in the novel concern his time spent in Frankfurt. We gain an idea and an understanding of the social conditions of that time, and we also learn about some of Felix's often lurid adventures and liaisons in the big city. Felix then moves to Paris to work in a hotel.
I would surmise that the majority of readers will not find the character of Felix Krull very sympathetic, and may conclude that he is downright irritating. Mann may have been writing with tongue-in-cheek, and at the same time making some gentle, and occasionally not so gentle, social commentary. Although the author could have admired some of the character's qualities and talents, I doubt that their respective world-views would have overlapped much. We are, however, left to interpret or imagine how the writer would have appraised the world in which Krull operated.
The moral ambiguity of the main character is perhaps what makes this book a less rewarding read for me than some other Mann works. The "philosophical" elements seemed more superficial and there was less depth to the characters and the narrative. Maybe the (unwritten/unpublished) subsequent volumes might have redressed the balance in this respect? On the positive side, there are still many examples of Mann's aptitude for detail, imagination and scene-setting.
As this story was "unfinished", the ending to this novel might seem enigmatic or anti-climactic. Mann had set very high standards with some of his previous offerings, but his writing is always formidable, absorbing and invigorating. Very much worth one's time.