McCall Smith’s books are light fiction but they nevertheless engage with the eternal verities and isn’t this the ‘deeper comfort’ Cornflower refers to? The greatest writers, especially Shakespeare, seem able to explain our own emotions to us. One might come out of a performance of Anthony and Cleopatra in tears, but not depressed and having shared the emotion with our fellow theatre-goers. Great writing reminds us of our common humanity, whether it’s John Donne asking ‘for whom the bell tolls’ or T S Eliot writing, in The Dry Salvages
‘Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing
Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers? …
…We have to think of them as forever bailing,
Setting and hauling,’
The comfort being that we are all in the same boat. What McCall Smith shares with greater writers is the moral compass and, I think, compassion, and this is why he appeals so strongly to people looking for a good deed in a naughty world.
(Word of life supplying Comfort to the dying, from the hymn by Henry Baker.)