This book took the picaresque writing style to heart and is a great example of the style. The goal of picaresque is a story is where the main character gets by on his or her wits, primarily through cons, theft, and deceit. Those elements are layered all throughout this book. The main character gets drawn in to the world through necessity, but develops an affinity for the lies, tricks, and cons. His pursuit of a lifestyle draws him deeper into the world as his cons work, fail, work, and fail. You do get to see that a life of crime is no party.
The book follows Pablos from a young age. It is broken into two parts. The first part follows him as he is sent to school by his parents. He becomes a servant for a wealthy friend and follows him through different schools, facing hunger and poverty regularly. He gets a letter from his uncle about his parents being arrested and he returns home to collect his inheritance and decide to go to Madrid in order to distance himself from his relations. On his way, he meets a con man who introduces him to a life of thievery and cons.
Start book two. The con man welcomes him into his band of cheats. They all instruct him on different ways to con, lie, and deceive. He learns to rig dice and card games, beg and not be recognized, have dinner with others and never have to pay, and ‘collect’ items to re-sell for profit. After the band is arrested, Pablos bribes a guard and gets out. He remakes himself as a gentleman. He woos a wealthy woman but is eventually found out. He is forced to flee Madrid. He eventually marries and the move to the New World to start anew.
It is rather fascinating how he manages to get through life. You get to read about his different cons and those going on around him. You learn a lot about the thief world of the middle ages and how a person got drawn into it. You don’t particularly get to know Pablos very well, but you empathize with him somewhat. There are points you cheer for him to succeed and other times you get annoyed with the cons he runs. How he gets into trouble, gets out of it, or manages to flee is interesting to read. However, the book is rather dry. There is not a lot of action or drama. It is rather like reading a biography. Readers of today I think would find it somewhat boring. The content is somewhat interesting, but you really need to want to read it in order to finish it.