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The Master's Muse

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  365 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
Copenhagen, 1956: Tanaquil Le Clercq, known as Tanny, is a gorgeous, talented, and spirited young ballerina whose dreams are coming true. She is married to the love of her life, George Balanchine—the famous mercurial director of New York City Ballet—and she has become a star around the world. But one fateful evening, only hours after performing, Tanny falls suddenly and gr ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Scribner (first published May 1st 2012)
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Oct 07, 2012 Mikkee rated it really liked it
I picked this book up off of the library's "Just In" shelf because I was intrigued by the author's approach to taking the true life story of a ballerina stricken with polio and writing it as a memoir but in novel format. O'Connor did it beautifully. A couple of times, I had to check and make sure it was a novel and not a memoir. The writing was in a stream of consciousness style that made me feel I was reading the thoughts of Tanaquil LeClerque.

The story itself is compelling, a young ballerina
Dec 17, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: ballet
Even though it says "A Novel" right on the cover, I somehow missed that fact when I grabbed this book from the library, thinking it was an actual biography of Tanaquil LeClercq, the Balanchine dancer (and his fourth and final wife) who contracted polio in her twenties and was paralyzed for the rest of her life. The book is actually a novelization of her relationship with Balanchine, based on an indeterminate amount of research. Wth? This is what comes of being susceptible, as I am, to nice new h ...more
Jan 11, 2013 Jamckean rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a spectacular novel! The Master's Muse is as captivating and elegant as the ballerinas who grace its pages. Varley O'Connor has given us an enchanting portrayal of the life and love of two ballet legends - George Balanchine, the brilliant choreographer who shaped the New York City Ballet, and his fifth wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, the unforgettable ballerina who lost the use of her legs to polio. Their deep love for one another, and for the art of ballet, leaps from each and every page. It is ...more
Gerard Villegas
Jun 10, 2015 Gerard Villegas rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for ballet books or books concerning dance especially since I enjoy the form of movement as an appreciation for the arts. Luckily I came across this gem at our store and checked it out and wasn't disappointed. There is something very lyrical about Varley O'Connor's Master's Muse. Similar to the way a dancer moves, the prose and writing style is very rewarding in the way the character conveys each line and word similar to a ballet composition.

The story is simple. Successful dancer di
Diane S ☔
May 09, 2012 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
Balanchine and his fifth wife, he in his fifties, she in her early twenties. Although this is about ballet it is also a portrayal of a dancer, inflicted with polio and her valiant struggle to come back. It also show a tender and the supportive side of Balanchine as her tends to her for many years all the while trying to keep his career going and her spirits up. A very interesting book, she actually stays at Roosevelt's Warm Springs, and it was nice to read about a less arrogant Balanchine.
May 28, 2014 Guinevere rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a beautiful book, and while I was surprised when I checked out some other reviews and found that it is a work of fiction, not a documentary, it is so well done. I listened to this as an audiobook (which is probably why I missed that detail), and it does come off so well as Tanaquil's voice - I'd say that's far more to the author's credit than a drawback.

The author also writes from the viewpoint of a dancer in such a natural way. I want to learn more about Tanaquil LeClerq now
Lois Spivack kaminsky
May 19, 2015 Lois Spivack kaminsky rated it it was amazing
Excellent story...true story! Beautiful love!
Aug 09, 2014 Melissa rated it it was ok
One of those books that I should have just stopped reading.

"Copenhagen, 1956: Tanaquil Le Clercq, known as Tanny, is a gorgeous, talented, and spirited young ballerina whose dreams are coming true. She is married to the love of her life, George Balanchine— the famous mercurial director of New York City Ballet. She dances the best roles in his newest creations, has been featured in fashion magazines and television dramas, socializes with the country’s most renowned artists and intellectuals, and
Nov 04, 2013 Karen rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, my book club has fallen into a sad pattern of reading biographgies or histroical fiction about women who allow themsleves to be treated badly by famous men. Alternatively, Women Who I Would Not Consider Good Role Models for Other Young Women. This historical fiction is about Tanaquil LeClercq, a ballerina who was paralyzed by polio when she was in her 20s. She was married to George Balanchine, the Russian chorepgrapher who apparently preyed on young ballerinas and could only be fa ...more
Katherine Gypson
Apr 22, 2013 Katherine Gypson rated it really liked it
Dancers don't last long. Ballet shapes the body into unnatural poses of beauty and exacts a price of stress, injury and endless rehearsals that would challenge even the greatest athelete. A dancer's time is brief, their work all the more transcedent because of its impermanence.

For Tanaquil Le Clercq, the fifth wife of George Balanchine, legendary Russian choregrapher who almost single-handedly shaped the direction of 20th century ballet, this fact became brutally clear all too early. Le Clerq, t
Aug 05, 2012 Shauna rated it it was amazing
A look at a complicated marriage. How can a woman continue to love a man, despite their divorce, who loves other women? What is it that connects people to each other?

“Pity any outsider who gets involved in marital discord, and Jerry could not know the density, the thickness of marriage. The death of a marriage wouldn’t be as traumatic if is simply died. The process was long and arduous like a real death. Would that all of us just went to sleep and expired, but we have these bodies. And marriages
Dee at EditorialEyes
3 out of 5. For this and other book reviews, visit EditorialEyes Book Reviews.


The kinetic world of ballet dancers and the artistic innovation of the 1950s American dance scene are the backdrop of The Master’s Muse, by Varley O’Connor. This novelization of real events is told through the first-person perspective of Tannaquil Le Clercq, prima ballerina of the nascent New York City Ballet, and the fifth wife of superstar choreographer George Balanchine. Tanaquil’s story is not just that of a bal
Brooke Everett
Mar 31, 2013 Brooke Everett rated it liked it
The remarkable story of the remarkable, strong Tanaquil Le Clercq (even if it did move a little slowly at times). It's easy to forget that this is fiction and not a memoir, and the research the author put in to creating this story certainly shows. I loved the peek inside the ballet world when the master, the artist - Balanchine - was at the helm.

"Fame: wouldn't wish it on anyone. Near-fame, that's what to wish for." p. 38

"Who'd want to be young again? Inexperience was such a burden to live throu
May 11, 2014 zespri rated it really liked it
It is hard to believe that this book is a novel and not a memoir. It is the story of Tanaquil, the fifth wife of George Balanchine. It is beautifully written, and evokes the world of the ballet and in particular the New York City Ballet, which was the company started by Balanchine.

Tragically, Tanny falls victim to polio, and her career is cut short, as she is confined to a wheelchair after the onset of the disease.

So, this novel is about a lot of things, a marriage, a dancer who has to deal with
Judy Matula
Jan 07, 2016 Judy Matula rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but withheld a star because it's a novelization in Tanaquil's imagined first-person voice, rather than a biography, which I would have preferred. Evidently Tanny was intensely private and left no memoirs, so her sharing the details of her life as a memoir rang false. But reading about Tanny, Balanchine, and ballet was captivating, despite various fictional inclusions.
Jun 28, 2013 Roya rated it really liked it
I loved this book because, in part, got me back in touch with my 1970s dancer-self when I studied with American Ballet Theatre. I have met some of the people mentioned in the book. Reading the book brought me back to that very special time in my life, this time through adult eyes. I had no idea at all about all the backstage drama. I know the book is a novel, but it truly seems as though LeClerq (Tanny) DID write it. If what is in the book is not 100% true, it seems like it should be.

Polio, or
Jan 25, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
I thought this was a brilliant evocation of what must have been a tremendously lovely and funny and engaging and larger-than-life personality. Having read enough now about the New York City Ballet to know more of the backstory, o'connor's book just makes the whole perspective even richer. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction, not an actual biography. Loved it.
Ann Woodbury Moore
Nov 15, 2012 Ann Woodbury Moore rated it liked it
In 1952 ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq married Russian choreographic genius George Balanchine, 25 years her senior. Four years later, only 27 years old, Le Clercq was struck down by polio and never danced again. This novel relates their romance and strong, lifelong bond—“We set our sights on each other almost from the beginning.” But Le Clercq, a proud, determined woman, struggled with both her physical limitations and Balanchine’s notorious obsessions for other dancers. O’Connor, the daughter of ...more
Oct 20, 2012 Deb rated it liked it
A fictional account of the real life relationship between George Balanchine and his muse and last wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, the famous ballerina.It begins with Tanny, as she's called, falling in love with George and marrying him, as she is at the height of her career, and losing it overnight when she contracts polio.
I had a hard time getting over the loss of her ability to walk, much less dance, and therefore it was hard for me to really move on to the rest of the story, which spanned the relat
May 31, 2015 Erin rated it liked it
It went about 100 pages too long. Could have been an interesting story, but it started to lose me as it progressed, and I thought the author sounded a little confused at the end. I knew nothing about the main characters, so I could read it as fiction, but I could see where those with knowledge of them or even ballet would be bothered by this portrayal.
Nov 30, 2012 Rose rated it liked it

This is the fictionalized relationship of world-respected choreographer George Balanchine and his last wife, Tanaquil La Clerq.
At first I didn't care for this style, but glad I finished the book. It is apparent that the author did much research. I am familiar with Balanchine and his ballerina brides, and have worshipped his legend for years, having studied his ballet style many years ago and followed his progress from the 1950's until his death.
This is the story of his last marriage, to Tanny
Jul 30, 2014 Kara rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have read in quite a while. I was a Balanchine groupie in my younger days. It was very interesting to read about the private lives of the man and his dancers I so admired, even if somewhat fictionalized.
Jul 25, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing
I'm a sucker for books about the arts and for fictionalized volumes about real writers and artists. While I thought the very popular "The Paris Wife" was entertaining, but rather shallow, "The Master's Muse" which is a fictionalized "memoir" of Tanaquil LeClercq, George Balanchine's fifth and final wife, does not disappoint. The book includes many real-life dancing legends, but the focus is Tanny, a spectacular prima ballerina who was struck with polio in the very prime of her career. I had to r ...more
Mar 05, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
I found this to be a fascinating read about Balanchine's last wife who was a ballerina struck with polio. I was not that familiar with the story of the NYCB, and it was very absorbing.
Jun 16, 2014 Rhea rated it did not like it
I thought the NY Times was hard on this book, so I wanted to see for myself. Uh... yeah they were right. This book made terrible choices in the way they told this story, and turned this mythic tale into a real slog. Skip it, and watch the doc Afternoon of a Faun instead.
Jul 21, 2014 Kathryne rated it it was ok
After reading this book, I would like to find a non-fiction book about the main characters, I want to know how she really felt.
Jun 09, 2012 Cherie rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This is a true story of the love affair between the great Russian choreographer George Balanchine, and his fifth wife, Tanaquil LeClercq. She is first noticed by Balanchine while still a young ballet student just breaking into his company. Eventually, they marry, despite the 20 years age difference and all goes well with her rise to stardom in the ballet company until she is struck down with polio. While she comes to grip with the fact that she will never dance again, never walk again, she also ...more
Ellen Marchessault
Fictionalized account of George Balanchine and his wife Tanaquil Le Clercq.
Ally Sievers
Aug 07, 2015 Ally Sievers rated it it was ok
Shelves: could-not-finish
Nope - interesting story but not a book for me...
This completely felt like an autobiography - not a novel, which it is. Varley O'Connor has definitely researched, presented and written it extremely well.

The book is about a ballerina, Tanaquil Le Clereq, whose promising career has been cut short by polio. The book then deals with the her life behind headlines, relationships, especially her husband, the brilliant choreographer George Balanchine. This is as much a love story, ambition and loss as about Tle Clereq. The best part is O'Connor deals
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Varley O’Connor’s first novel, Like China, described by the New York Times as “a first novel that soars,” was published by William Morrow in 1991. Her second novel, A Company of Three, about the world of theater and acting, came out from Algonquin Books in 2003. Her third novel, The Cure, was published by the Bellevue Literary Press in 2007. Scribner will release her most recent novel, The Master' ...more
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