Jacqueline St. Clare's 464-page fiction novel invites readers to see the Gospel from the perspective of female protagonists
BEVERLY HILLS — Local author Jacqueline St. Clare's debut novel, "Through Esther’s Eyes" (Marian Press, 2023), offers a compelling look at the Gospel through the eyes of a female protagonist, a fictional cousin of Jesus named Esther.
St. Clare — who asked to go by her pen name — began writing the book at 12 years old. Now 26, the author told Detroit Catholic that while Esther is, in many ways, based on herself, the book’s content is primarily inspired not only by extensive study of Scripture but her time in the Holy Land.
“I have been to the Holy Land twice, which has really helped my writing and helped it form,” St. Clare explained. “I was there during a peaceful period and really just experiencing the Holy Land, the smells, the feels, the trees and the atmosphere were really important to my book and shaping it.”
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St. Clare, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Beverly Hills and a graduate of Everest Collegiate High School and Academy in Clarkston, began the 464-page novel in middle school in a writing class. She continued to work on the book but paused when she was 17 and discerning religious life. Around that time, St. Clare took her first trip to the Holy Land for her senior year trip with other Everest students.
After high school, St. Clare spent time at a convent, but ultimately discerned out and went on to graduate from Wayne State University with a degree in Near Eastern studies and minors in Israeli studies and creative writing. One day, St. Clare saw the book's manuscript saved on her computer and decided to take another look.
“I just remember being out of the convent, and I saw in my computer a document that said ‘Through Esther’s Eyes,’ and I opened it and started reading it and realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to keep doing this. I want to finish this,’” St. Clare told Detroit Catholic.
The book follows a fictional cousin of Jesus, Esther. Throughout the course of the book, Esther marries Lazarus of Bethany, and the reader follows not only her marriage but her relationship with Jesus and how it changes their lives.
St. Clare said she modeled Esther largely after herself, and the story evolved as she herself changed.
“I think what inspired me is I wanted to place my own self in the Gospel story,” St. Clare said. “When I started making my consecration to Mary and started having a Marian devotion, my book started having a Marian devotion to it. (I was also inspired by) some of my experiences in the convent living with several women in community. So it took on my different experiences, and that’s what really created Esther.”
St. Clare describes Esther as having bright green eyes, being a little dramatic, but loving the Scriptures, a quality which ultimately draws her and her husband Lazarus together.
In addition to her senior trip to the Holy Land, St. Clare visited again in 2016 as part of a young adult hiking pilgrimage. While on the latter trip, St. Clare was actively working on the novel and spent her time writing notes and drawing pictures, recording as many details as she could.
“I was in Capernaum, and there is a scene in my book where Esther goes there a few times; she goes from the synagogue and then past Peter’s house and then to the Sea of Galilee. So when I was there, and we had some free time to pray and walk around, I got to walk that exact path from the synagogue to Peter's house to the Sea of Galilee,” St. Clare said. “That was an amazing experience and I was writing furiously every detail to try and capture that.”
Some of the details she included in the book from her travels simply capture a sense of realism and humanity.
“When I was in Israel, and we were in a big crowd, this lady sneezed in my face, and I just added a detail like that to my novel just to bring it to life,” St. Clare added, laughing.
St. Clare hopes readers will read her book like a prayer. Although historical fiction and not doctrine, the book is based on the Gospel and invites readers to fully immerse themselves in the understanding that Mary and the other women are indeed part of the Gospel.
“I think it is important to understand that Jesus and the 12 apostles couldn't do it at all without the women,” St. Clare said. “We have the women who, according to the Gospel, are seeing to their needs, so we could imagine that they could have housed the apostles, fed the apostles, supported their mission.
“I also think, for example, in the Upper Room for Passover, traditionally it is just the 12 apostles who were present there, but I believe there must have been women there who cooked the meal and made the place nice and furnished and helped in a hidden role, but I think they were there doing a lot of background work,” St. Clare added.
St. Clare hopes her readers find not only prayer and contemplation, but friendship in her debut novel.
“I hope they get to sit in the Gospel through Esther's eyes, and as Esther makes friends with Martha and Mary of Bethany, the reader can make friends with Martha and Mary of Bethany and really enter in almost a contemplative kind of way.”
"Through Esther’s Eyes," published by Marian Press, is available for $17.95 at shopmercy.org.
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