Picks and Pans Review: Low Tide

updated 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Fernanda Eberstadt

The hero of this rococo first novel, for reasons altogether too odd to be believed, is named Jemima. He is called Jem or Falcon or Nicolas. His father is British; his mother is from Mexico and very rich. As a child, "he smoked and drank mint tea, played chess with the café elders, gambled at a street corner. He hung around the docks, talking to sailors, the stevedores, the merchants. He read voraciously. He wrote voluminous diaries and poems." Later he takes up with the Jesuits in Spain for a year and finally has an affair with a girl named Jezebel (he calls her Scarlet). She is a weirdo too, with a rich alcoholic mother and, in the kitchen, an old black man from their New Orleans origins. Low Tide, written by the 24-year-old, Oxford-educated granddaughter of Ogden Nash, is occasionally interesting, in the way a jangling poem by Edith Sitwell conjures up flickering images, as it moves from one baroque scene to the next. But it seems derivative, and there are too many sentences that are curiously false. ("The black, sweet, clammy night air of London was like a fallen cake.") Time after time a reader has to stop, get out the mental machete and hack away at the verbose jungle. (Uh-oh, this kind of writing may be contagious.) (Knopf, $13.95)

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