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"The Master's Muse" by Varley O'ConnorNew novel about Le Clercq and Balanchine


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#136 LiLing

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Posted 22 May 2012 - 10:04 AM

I vowed not to buy this book, but was able to get it from the library. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I did cringe at a couple of things, and then had to remind myself, wait a minute, this is fiction.
My one objection to the book is the very negative portrayal of Susanne Farrell, which I found mean spirited and unfair, even stooping to quoting petty gossip, such as other dancers referring to her family as the Joads of NYCB.
As Miss Farrell is still very much alive and active in the ballet world, this made me very sad. I hope she doesn't read it.

#137 Neryssa

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Posted 23 May 2012 - 01:34 PM

I vowed not to buy this book, but was able to get it from the library. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I did cringe at a couple of things, and then had to remind myself, wait a minute, this is fiction.
My one objection to the book is the very negative portrayal of Susanne Farrell, which I found mean spirited and unfair, even stooping to quoting petty gossip, such as other dancers referring to her family as the Joads of NYCB.
As Miss Farrell is still very much alive and active in the ballet world, this made me very sad. I hope she doesn't read it.


An unfortunate term but Suzanne Farrell was not a sophisticate (unlike Le Clercq) until she studied with Balanchine and later lived in Europe for several years. There are many cringe-worthy moments in the novel's preview but I am still waiting for the book via interlibrary loan.

#138 Stage Right

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Posted 01 June 2012 - 09:44 AM

I found this book at the library a few days ago, and just finished reading it. (It was so new at the library, that I believe I was the first reader of a very new-looking book!). I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I liked it very much. I thought that basically, it was well-done, well-researched and written. It certainly was pleasant to read, and I read it in one day since I wasn't feeling well, and had taken a day off to rest. Since I have read many books about NYCB dancers and Balanchine, a lot of it covered familiar ground. As many posters here have mentioned, why not a biography rather than a novel? After reading it, I have the same question, because obviously so much research went into it. I can think of only two possibilities: first, that the writer preferred writing it as a novel, as she is a novelist! (This also allowed her to write it in the first person, which I actually enjoyed, as it gives a sense that you are privy to the main character's thoughts and feelings). Or, that she would need permission from someone to do a biography and was for whatever reason, unable to do so. At times I found that the writing itself bothered me a bit, as the author has a way of phrasing her sentences which often caused me to have to reread them as the meaning was not immediately apparent, but I got used to that. The thing that bothered me most was not knowing where the author may have inserted fictional material. She does have an Author's Note at the end which clarifies some things but not others. Basically, most of the main action and characters are apparently based on reality. The two main questions I was left with were: did the "dipping the finger in the water in Venice" really happen ( her answer to this was yes). And, was the character of "Carl" real, and did that relationship actually happen? The author did not clarify that--does anyone here know? I hope it is true! The final thing that bothered me is that she ended the story with Balanchine's death. Novelistically, I can understand this, but Tannaquil lived many years after that, and I would like to know more about her life AFTER Balanchine! In some ways. this book seemed as much a story of Balanchine as it was of LeClercq......(and, may I say, I thought the author did a wonderful job of navigating the nuances of what have been a very complex relationship and marriage).

#139 dirac

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Posted 02 June 2012 - 03:39 PM

Thanks for the detailed review, StageRight. I have my copy waiting to be read. So many books, so little time, etc......

#140 dirac

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Posted 28 February 2013 - 10:50 AM

Finally got around to this one. StageRight's review is on the mark. Generally well written and well researched, often using Le Clercq's own words.

The final thing that bothered me is that she ended the story with Balanchine's death. Novelistically, I can understand this, but Tanaquil lived many years after that, and I would like to know more about her life AFTER Balanchine! In some ways. this book seemed as much a story of Balanchine as it was of LeClercq......(and, may I say, I thought the author did a wonderful job of n a vigating the nuances of what have been a very complex relationship and marriage).



O'Connor does point out that Le Clercq had relationships that O'Connor chose not to mention or emphasize, preferring to focus on the marriage. (She does make it clear that Le Clercq had a life apart from Balanchine.) True, the book is called “The Master’s Muse” and it’s a legitimate choice for a writer to make, but I agree it would have been nice to read on a bit more after the death of Balanchine and in fact the story seems to end rather abruptly. The book is actually quite careful and reticent as biographical novels go – O’Connor could have plunged in a little deeper. The occasionally difficult relations between Le Clercq and her mother aren’t really touched upon. The writing can’t conjure the distinctive Le Clercquian fizz and wit, but that would be tough for any writer. Her Le Clercq doesn’t always understand le mystère Balanchine, the "cloud in trousers," and O'Connor suggests that he was in some ways finally unknowable. Not at all the gloppy fiction I had feared.

O'Connor's ballet judgments as expressed by "Le Clercq" in the first-person narrative can be doubtful. She has Le Clercq inform us that Balanchine emphasized women and Ashton emphasized men. Huh? Not a judgment a woman who worked with both men would have made. (Ashton liked to sleep with men, but his artistic preoccupations were another matter entirely.)

#141 dirac

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Posted 28 February 2013 - 10:55 AM

I vowed not to buy this book, but was able to get it from the library. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I did cringe at a couple of things, and then had to remind myself, wait a minute, this is fiction.
My one objection to the book is the very negative portrayal of Susanne Farrell, which I found mean spirited and unfair, even stooping to quoting petty gossip, such as other dancers referring to her family as the Joads of NYCB.
As Miss Farrell is still very much alive and active in the ballet world, this made me very sad. I hope she doesn't read it.


The reference makes sense in context. I was more struck by the fact that O'Connor felt it necessary to explain for the reader that the Joads are characters in "The Grapes of Wrath." Of course, she's probably right to do so.

#142 pasdequatre

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 05:30 PM

I read most of this book last year. I'm glad I'm a distant poster on this topic since I hope no one reads this as it is not a positive review. But as I recall, I returned it to the library unfinished because it was just not interesting. It takes talent to turn a true life drama into soap opera. Not worth going to the library for.

#143 dirac

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 10:22 PM

Thanks for posting anyway, pasdequatre. If you didn't like it, you didn't like it.

The line between "true-life" drama and soap opera, or melodrama, can be quite thin. (The resemblance between Nijinsky/Diaghilev - The Red Shoes - Farrell/Balanchine is remarkably close.)


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