Rebecca Tyrrel: Ricky Gervais may be the only person to have written more fictional works than he’s read

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Who knew that Ricky Gervais claims to have read precisely the one novel? Aged 28, he heroically ploughed through JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. He says he was not impressed and when, another 28 years later, he did Desert Island Discs, it was a book of coffee-table art that Kirsty Young gave the nod to.

Shouldn't the former television producer Jane Fallon, his partner of more than 30 years, have been just a little upset that he didn't want one of her four best-selling novels?

As his career has progressed, or regressed, from the timeless brilliance of The Office to the head-scratchingly abysmal Derek – his gurnfest "comedy" about a sweet-natured but simpleton care-home worker, which ended its first and (God willing) only run on Channel 4 this week – it has become increasingly difficult to be sure when Gervais is trying to be funny. With the mono-novel confession, however, no irony is intended. Far from lapsing fondly into David Brent when he makes this claim, he is being absolutely serious.

It is a bizarre fact, independently confirmed by Ms Fallon, and it places the actor, writer, director, failed new romantic musician, semi-professional atheist, cheekily celeb-taunting Golden Globes host and occasional baiter of the disabled in an incredibly select group. Indeed he may be the only person in history to have written more fictional works – four so far in his Flanimals range of children's books – than he has read. He does, though, hope to abandon this possible claim to uniqueness in the fulness of time. "I'm going to do that," he has said of his eagerly awaited reading comeback, "when there's nothing else to do, and I'm 70 and lying on a beach."

The second novel is of course notoriously difficult to tackle, if more commonly for the author rather than the reader. Which calls to mind the joke about the Jewish mother who, finding her prospective son-in-law is a writer says, "There you go, Becki, a perfect match, he writes, you read!"

With the entire canon of global literature an open book to Gervais, choosing the next will be quite a challenge. Although Ms Fallon hopes that he one day samples her oeuvre, she can't help but worry.

"I would like him to read them," says Jane, "but I would like him to read them in the context of books in general. Because if I'm going to be compared to The Catcher In The Rye, I'm not going to win."

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