It’s an absolute pleasure to start off the Swift Press blog tour for To the Lake by Yana Vagner. My grateful thanks to Rachel Nobilo for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of To the Lake in return for an honest review.
To the Lake is published by Swift, today, 4th November 2021 and is available for purchase through these links.
To the Lake
A deadly flu epidemic sweeps through Moscow, killing hundreds of thousands. Anya and her husband Sergey decide they have no choice but to flee to a lake in the far north of Russia.
Joining them on their journey are her son and father-in-law; Sergey’s ex-wife and son; and their garish neighbours. But then some friends of Sergey show up to complete Anya’s list of people she’d least like to be left with at the end of the civilised world.
As the wave of infection expands from the capital, their food and fuel start to run low. Menaced both by the harsh Russian winter and by the desperate people they encounter, they must put their hatreds behind them if they’re to have a chance of reaching safety…
Inspired by a real-life flu epidemic in Moscow, To the Lake was a number one bestseller in Russia, and has now appeared in a dozen languages and been adapted into a Netflix TV series.
My Review of To the Lake
Anya is escaping a deadly virus.
I’ll be honest and say I was completely dubious about reading a book about a deadly virus causing a pandemic, and I’m not keen on dystopian type fiction, but from the very first page of To the Lake I was completely hooked by Yana Vagner’s writing so flawlessly translated by Maria Wiltshire. There’s a familiar sense of disbelief, unreality and panic that felt utterly authentic and compelling.
I thought To the Lake was a brilliant book. I think the sense of connection the reader has through understanding the panic, the need to keep away from infected people and the desire to keep loved ones safe that so many of us have endured makes To the Lake all the more affecting.
The plot is simple on one level. A group of people travel by vehicle as far away as possible from the pandemic. However, that is to belie the dramatic scenes and events littered along the journey, so perfectly balanced against more prosaic moments of the need to eat and sleep so that To the Lake feels completely authentic and possible, at the same time as being exciting and horrifying. Whilst there are hugely dynamic and exciting moments, for me it is the quieter moments, the psychological uncovering of behaviour through Anya’s first person narrative, that make this such a compelling story.
Anya’s voice is absolutely true. Her insecurities about Sergey and Ira, her love for Mishka and her difficult relationships with others like Boris and Marina make To the Lake a fascinating insight into a normal, troubled, flawed and realistic human mind. I’m not entirely sure I’d like Anya in real life, but my goodness Yana Vagner made me care about what happened to her and ensured I understood her completely. This is such clever and interesting writing.
What is so astounding in To the Lake is that whilst it has an atmosphere of dystopia about it, it also rings clear and true for today’s world too. The primal instinct for survival, sometimes at any cost, the basic human requirements for food and shelter, the breakdown of society in challenging times, suspicion balanced by altruism all add up to a narrative that is raw, exciting and engrossing, drawing in the reader almost against their will.
I’m unsurprised that To the Lake has become a television series. Yana Vagner’s writing is so dynamic. Her descriptions of the snow, the cold, the villages all paint a wonderful image in the reader’s mind so that I felt as if I were on the journey with Anya et al.
Dramatic, intense and realistically terrifying, To The Lake is a book I won’t forget in a hurry. I thought it was excellent
About Yana Vagner
Yana Vagner was born in 1973 to a bilingual Soviet family of a Czech mother and a Russian father. After graduating from the Russian State University for the Humanities in 1994 and, up until 2010, she worked as a translator and a manager in a logistics company. Yana had always been keen on post-apocalyptic stories.