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The Master's Muse

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  379 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
“We set our sights on each other almost from the beginning.”

So begins The Master’s Muse, an exquisite, deeply affecting novel about the true love affair between two artistic legends: George Balanchine, the Russian émigré to America who is widely considered the Shakespeare of dance, and his wife and muse, Tanaquil Le Clercq.

Copenhagen, 1956: Tanaquil Le Clercq, known as T
ebook, 256 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Scribner (first published May 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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Oct 07, 2012 Mikkee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 09, 2016 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane S ☔
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.
Lois Spivack kaminsky
Excellent story...true story! Beautiful love!
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
Julia Wilkins
Jan 01, 2017 Julia Wilkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written and captivating

A sensitive and living portrait of Tanny, written with obvious love and respect for the amazing ballerina who lost the use of her legs.
Katherine Gypson
Apr 22, 2013 Katherine Gypson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 09, 2014 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Gerard Villegas
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
Brooke Everett
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
Ann Woodbury Moore
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 28, 2013 Roya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 11, 2014 zespri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 30, 2012 Rose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 25, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 2012 Cherie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 27, 2012 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an historical fiction set in the form of a memoir of ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq and her husband George Balanchine, Russian emigre and director of the New York City Ballet. The memoir begins in 1956 when Balanchine's 5th wife "Tanny" was diagnosed with polio and continues through Balanchine's death from Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, both caused by viruses. Jerome Robbins and Stravinsky are central to their lives. I read it straight through. Amazing how such giants deal with daily life.
Aug 25, 2016 Guinevere rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
R.K. Johnson
Oct 16, 2012 R.K. Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a spectacular read, so realistic and wrought with such care and beautiful detail on the subjects of Tanaquil le Clercq, Ballanchine and the rich world of ballet. O'Connor paints a masterpiece that I could not put down. This is a must read. Not only does the book explore the beauty of life but it explores this beauty through enhanced detail. We must all be grateful for everything in life!
Judy Matula
Jan 07, 2016 Judy Matula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 21, 2012 Melia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a great read. A peek into the life of Tanaquil Le Clercq and George Balanchine. A look into the relationship of the Master and his Muse. Though this book is fictional, it has some research with people from their lives. You forget you are reading a novel with the writing being so smooth as if it's coming from Tanaquil herself. A great read for anyone, especially those who are lovers of ballet.
Having just finished "Nemesis" by Philip Roth, I saw this book on the shelf at the library and was intrigued by the story of polio in this novel.
Tanaquil Le Clercq was the 5th wife of the choreographer George Balanchine, and prima ballerina in his NYC Ballet corp. In the height of her career, right after they married, she contracted polio and the story of how she copes with losing her body functions - especially as a dancer - is an interesting read.
Jan 22, 2013 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This reminded me of "The Paris Wife" and "Alice I Have Been". I'm usually a sucker for these kinds of novels. I liked this one especially as it dealt with the world of ballet. I haven't really read anything about George Ballanchine before so it was interesting to read a fictional account of his life. I'll admit the book was a tad bit slow so it took me a little longer to get through then it should have. But I'm glad that I read it.
Jun 25, 2012 Shifra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, extremely touching. This is a fictionalized memoir about Balanchine and his fourth wife Tanaquil stricken with polio at the height of her career. The book exposes us to the studio and performance hall of ballet and into their relationships. The detailed descriptions are written so lyrically. Very moving.
Rose Ann
Jul 12, 2012 Rose Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book clubs, lovers of beauty and the arts, balletomanes
Recommended to Rose Ann by: Publishers weekly review
Shelves: book-club-books
Beautifully written, engrossing and bittersweet story of a ballerine struck down in her prime by polio, and of the man she loved and who loved her. The story is based on a real ballerina and her real marriage to a great choreographer. I know next to nothing about the ballet, but this author kept me intrigued and engrossed. Now I know more about the Dance and its artists. Highly recommended.
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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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