What is the most pessimistic line in all of literature? I’m too lazy to look, so permit me to quote from my own insubstantial portfolio. In a discarded part of my novel Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction, Ib – the titular protagonist – observes: “Everything that is alive is a reminder of everything that is dead.”

Ib is a world-class pessimist, and, although it is difficult to reduce a novel to one thing (if it isn’t, it’s not a very good novel), Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction is on the whole a pessimistic novel.

The title is almost self-explanatory: It is about a young man’s search for meaning. But he’s not actively searching, nor does he know that this search is the unconscious motivation for his wandering. He feels it only as a vague dissatisfaction, an absence of meaning, and a sense of purposelessness.

I’m not a great fan of my own work and it is not to boast or to market that I bring it up now. Rather, the theme of the book, a search for meaning, seems suddenly to have become more relevant in the last six months of this pandemic, and, to complement this, a feeling of pessimism has become the ruling...

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