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I'm reading Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. I thought I was fully comprehending the story, until the return of John Boot at the end of Book 1.

When they had gone, Mrs. Stitch said: "I must go too. Just tell me in three words what happened. The last thing I heard was from Lord Copper. He telephoned to say you had left."

"Not a word from him. It's been very awkward."

"The American girl?"

"Yes, exactly. We said good bye a fortnight ago. She gave me a lucky pig to wear round my neck — it was made of bog-oak from Tipperary. We were both very genuinely affected. Since then I haven't dared go out or answer the telephone. I only came here because I knew she wouldn't be coming."

"Poor John. I wonder what went wrong... I like the bit about the pig very much."

What American girl? What does this have to do with the wrong Boot being sent?

If I am not supposed to know at this point in the story, i.e. I'm supposed to be confused, then please only state that much visibly, and use spoiler syntax for any further explanation.

(My reading club is stopping at Book 1 this week and no one's supposed to read ahead, which is why I can't just keep reading. If the rest of my co-readers are confused as well, I'd like to have an explanation for them, so I ask here. I have tried to look for plot summaries online but see nothing focused on Book 1 except on bookrags.com, behind a paywall.)

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The "American girl" is John Boot's lover, from whom he wants to escape.

The whole thing about John Boot wanting to get a foreign assignment to Ishmaelia started off because he wanted to get away from this "American girl". Here's the passage where he first asks Julia Stitch for help, in the first few pages of Book 1:

"I want to get away from London," said John Boot.

"So it's come to that? All on account of your American girl?"

"Well, mostly."

"I warned you, before you began. Is she being frightful?"

"My lips are sealed. But I've got to get far away or else go crazy."

"To my certain knowledge she's driven three men into the bin. Where are you going?"

"That's just what I wanted to talk about."

This explains why John Boot is too afraid to go out or answer the telephone. He's told his lover that he was leaving for Ishmaelia, and she thinks he's already gone; he desperately wants to keep it that way, presumably so that he can avoid her company for a time, even though it means he's stuck indoors and away from social engagements. Thus his comment that it's "been very awkward".

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  • Thanks! I do remember that now. The beginning few pages of the story was so disconnected from the rest that I had completely forgotten about this. I had flipped back to the beginning but didn't come across the part. – Andrew Cheong Jul 4 '17 at 19:40

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