Do we actually need this intensification of self that novels provide? Do we need it more than ever before?

I suspect not. If we asked the question of, for example, a Buddhist priest, he or she would probably tell us that it is precisely this illusion of selfhood that makes so many in the West unhappy. We are in thrall to the narrative of selves that do not really exist in the way we imagine, a fabrication in which most novel-writing connives. Schopenhauer would have agreed. He spoke of people “deluded into an absolutely false view of life by reading novels,” something that “generally has the most harmful effect on their whole lives.” Like the Buddhist priest, he would have preferred silence or the school of experience, or the kind of myth or fable that did not invite excited identification with an author alter ego.