I once wrote a paper on 'the picaresque novel' in American literature, and somehow at the time this marvellous book must have escaped my attention as an immaculate example of the genre. Barry Lyndon (aka Redmond Barry, Captain Barry, Barry of Barryogue, Redmond de Balibari) is a fascinating character. It is strange actually, how absorbed one quickly becomes in his autobiography, taking into account that he is actually an almost a-moral and definitely unreliable person: women are there to be used, men to be cheated, and I'd wager that Barry would happily take a child's pocket money if he was in need of some small change. And yet, does not the nobility happily welcome him into their circle when he's rich, and gladly play cards with him, and then forget to honour their IOU's should they happen to lose?
As such this splendid book, as unreliable a narrator as Barry Lyndon may be (and surely is), is not just the chronicle of a virtuoso swindler, but also holds up a mirror to society, and when Barry says near the end of the book 'at least, if I did and said what I liked, was not so bad as many a canting scoundrel I know of who covers his foibles and sins, unsuspected, with a ask of holiness', it seems hard to disagree with him on that point.
I vaguely recall having seen in a distant past the movie (with Ryan O'Neal, was it?) but that didn't really make an impression. Not so with the book! As always, or so it seems, the book is so much better than the movie.