Book report ‘De Trooster’ by Esther Gerritsen
The Comforter takes place in a monastery where the protagonist and janitor Jacob receives Henry Loman. Loman is an ex-secretary of state who engaged in fraudulent practices. Because Jacob’s life is very attractive to Henry, he wants to befriend him. Jacob is flattered by his attention and feels it is time for Henry to repent. He thinks he has a role in this, because Loman does not know the liturgy of the Catholic Church any more than he knows the Bible. Jacob identifies himself with Christ who died for our sins. Henry is unfaithful but always returns to his wife Alicia. During his stay in the monastery, he also has contact with another woman whom he assaults. After this event, Henry returns to his wife who, as usual, forgives him everything.
- General information
- Summary The Comforter
- Symbols and motifs
- Title statement De Trooster
- Place, time and perspective
- About Esther Gerritsen
- Title: The Comforter
- Author: Esther Gerritsen
- Date of Birth: February 2, 1972
- First edition: March 2018
- Publisher: De Geus
- Cover illustration: Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights
- Number of pages: 211
- ISBN: 978 90 445 4014 7
Summary The Comforter
The book is set in a monastery which is also a retreat center. The protagonist is janitor Jacob who is not a brother, he lives among the brothers who also turn out to be people. Jacob receives the new guest Henry Loman which is not usual. Normally there is a hostess and by chance the brothers are just preparing for the vespers. Jacob does not dare to disturb them and is somewhat distant towards Henry. A special bond of friendship develops between the faithful janitor Jacob and the unbelieving Henry, special because Jacob has no other friends. He once had a relationship, but actually Jacob prefers to be alone in order to be happy undisturbed and his environment, his neighbors, are between God and him. Jacob feels good about himself when he is alone, when he is with other people he has bad thoughts about those others and hates himself. Then he finds himself proud. The monastery is actually a flight from the world, because he is afraid of the judgment of other people. Jacob does not resist: “When it rains I stay put, when the tomcat snuggles against me I let him. I am used to receiving everything.”
Henry is an ex-secretary of state who engaged in fraudulent practices. He wants to befriend as Jacob embodies a life that Henry does not know. This has a great attraction for him. Henry thinks Jacob is an independent mind, which he thinks is more common in people with a different appearance, because Jacob has a crooked face. At first Jacob feels very uncomfortable about the attention he gets from Henry, but he also feels flattered and eventually cannot do without that attention, for which he wants to do a lot. In addition, Jacob has the idea that it is time for Henry’s repentance and that he, Jacob, has a role in it. Henry is not aware of the liturgy in the Catholic Church nor does he have knowledge of the Bible. Jacob takes on the task of telling Henry the Bible stories.
Henry leaves the monastery
Henry is unfaithful to his wife Alicia, even during his stay in the monastery he has contact with a fellow guest, but he always returns to his wife. Together with Henry, Jacob goes to watch the Easter fire, after which Henry disappears with Annelie, one of the guests of the monastery. Jacob gets drunk and is picked up by one of the brothers and taken to his bed. The next morning when Jacob sees Henry again, he tells him that he has violated Annelie.
When Henry wants to leave the monastery to return to his wife, Jacob wants to prevent Henry from leaving and takes his phone. When his wife comes to pick him up, Jacob wants to come along: “A dog can fit in the back seat.” In his opinion, the debt would still be reachable and Jacob should therefore come along. But the car drives away and Jacob is alone again, an illusion poorer.
The main character is Jacob, the story revolves around him. The second person is Henry with whom Jacob befriends. He is intrigued by Henry’s life, which is nothing like his. Plus, he’s flattered by all the attention he’s getting from Henry.
The other characters in the book are the Brothers, the forgiving Alicia and fellow guest Annelie. These people seem to serve as the backdrop for the story and are not explored further.
Symbols and motifs
Especially around Easter, the Roman Catholic Church uses symbols and customs that all refer to the suffering of Christ.
- Jacob identifies himself with Christ who died for our sins and who washed the feet of his disciples, so Jacob wants to wash the feet of his brothers.
- The fourteen Stations of the Cross ?? the agony of Jesus on the way to the cross where he falls three times.
- Because Henry is afraid, Jacob wants to smear blood from a lamb on Henry’s doorframe. With this, the wrath of god will pass from his house. The blood symbolizes Christ who died for our sins. Then, according to Jacob, Henry could have survived the night just like Christ the night before his death.
- When Jacob walks out in the cold: “Likewise I have received the pain of Christ for years”.
- In the book the suffering and death of Christ symbolize the trial of Jacob, who thinks he can give redemption by cutting a lamb chop. But the blood that flows here is his own blood, because he cuts his finger.
- Henry’s wife, Alicia, is uncritical, she forgives and comforts her husband, which is why he stays with her too. Alicia symbolizes Mary, the mother of Christ.
Title statement De Trooster
The Comforter is Jacob, but The Comforter is also a symbol of Christ who is called the Great Comforter. And for Henry Loman, his wife Alicia is the one who comforts him and who he keeps coming back to.
Sin, guilt, penance and comfort. Jacob often feels sinful when he has bad thoughts about other people, Henry is also guilty and wants to talk about sin and guilt. Jacob offers him the comfort of faith. The book makes constant reference to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Place, time and perspective
The story takes place in a monastery, in 2018, because there are guests who come on retreat and the brothers want to realize luxury guest accommodations. There is also talk of a laptop that Henry uses to watch a current affairs program and he owns a mobile phone. The complete story is told by Jacob, the I character.
The novel by Esther Gerritsen talks a lot about penance and guilt, yet it is not a gloomy book, but an accessible, easily readable novel. The main character Jacob lives a lonely life as a caretaker, but he is very satisfied with this. Jacob takes us into his perception, the other character Henry Loman also plays an important role, but we get to know through the eyes of Jacob. The characters of the other persons are not explored.
There is certainly humor in the book, Jacob calls himself: “the dog of the family that everyone loves.” Or when Henry Loman sits at the table with the brothers and plays his part with verve, this reminds Jacob of Sinterklaas evening and he can hardly contain his laughter.
Even at the end of the book when Henry Loman leaves the monastery to go back to his wife, you, as a reader, have the feeling that Jacob will be left alone, but always in the company of the brothers who will lovingly take him back into their community. and no doubt come up with new jobs for him.
About Esther Gerritsen
Esther Gerritsen was born on February 2, 1972 in Gendt near Nijmegen. She studied drama writing and literary education at the Utrecht School of the Arts. She wrote plays and co-authored the films “Nena” and “Dorst”. She made her debut in 2000 with “Privileged Consciousness” after which she wrote several successful novels, such as “Normal Days”, “The Little Pissy God”, “Super Pigeon”, “Thirst” and “Roxy”. In 2016 she wrote the book week gift “Brother”. In 2014 Esther Gerritsen was awarded the Frans Kellendonk Prize. “The Comforter” was nominated for the Libris Literature Prize 2019. In 2020 Gerritsen received the Peter van Straaten Psychology Prize for “Super Pigeon”, together with Keuls and Rijneveld.
In addition to her job as an author, Gerritsen is a columnist for the VPRO Guide. She grew up in a Catholic family. For her book, Gerritsen made a retreat in a monastery around Easter, where she experienced the liturgy with its rituals. The concept of sin has always occupied her, she goes to church to experience the stories of the past.