New translations of "The Castle," "The Trial" and "The Metamorphosis: And Other Stories" ( Oxford University Press: $13.95 each) make Kafka feel fresh once more. Anthea Bell's translation of "The Castle" goes for speed and crispness. "It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void." The cover illustrations to these lovely books derive from sketches made by Kafka himself and confirm our idea of him as someone who made his torment feel universal by presenting it with such humor and terrifying clarity.
Finally, Tove Jansson's "The True Deceiver" ( New York Review Books: $14.95), translated into English from the Swedish for the first time by Thomas Teal, makes a dark companion to her glowing "The Summer Book." Here the setting is Finnish winter, and the almost Highsmithian subject concerns a woman who inveigles herself in the life of a famous, and rich, writer. Jansson's writing is, as always, understated yet acute and thrilling. She's a writer you discover and then want to tell everybody else about.
Rayner is the author, most recently, of "A Bright and Guilty Place" and writes the monthly Paperback Writers column at latimes.com/books.