This novel takes place during one afternoon in the life of Penelope, middle-aged wife, mother and magistrate. This is the day she leaves her husband, Eddie, a weak and ineffectual character she married because she felt she could help him. She does not tell him she is leaving because she wants to avoid a tearful scene. She is a bit unsettled because she has received a package containing some aspirins and a note from the anonymous sender. She spends the day in court, hearing cases and reflecting upon her own life. The guilt of the criminals in front of her is juxtaposed with the guilt she feels as she examines her relations with her own troubled step family. As Penelope's complicated past is slowly reeled out we see a woman who is not quite the proper, perfect person she appears.
Like Penelope, Nina Bawden was a magistrate nominated by the Labour Party and her notions of social justice colour this story. Afternoon of a Good Woman was written in 1976 at a time when social mores were shifting. It's a well written short book about what it means to be a good woman.